Jamel Hart is poised for another big year as South Hills tries to bounce back
Note: Obviously, a lot more will be learned over the summer about the guys on this list and how their teams will use them. And I will do another list after that. But for now, this is a pretty guideline as to who the top ball carriers in the “area” are. As always, let me know where I’ve screwed up, if I’ve screwed up, point out some nuggets I may not have heard of, and I will pay extra-close attention to them this summer.
1. Chris Solomon, Sr., West Covina — The reigning Tribune Player of the Year simply has it all — he can run with power and also run away from defenders once in the open. Solomon’s junior year came behind a veteran line that was a lot different than what he’ll have to work with this year. Will that hurt his overall numbers? It’s hard to tell right now. If there’s a weakness in his abilities as a ball carrier, I haven’t seen it.
2. Jalen Moore, Sr., Bishop Amat — Remember when everyone (me) was worried about Jay Anderson’s defection from the team last offseason? Well, Moore quelled those concerns with a monstrous junior season. Like Solomon, Moore uses a nice combo of power running and speed. But like Solomon, Moore will have some new linemen in front of him this season. That’s a concern, but he’s talented enough to rattle off another big season.
3. Tairen Owens, Sr., Muir — Owens has already given a verbal commitment to Washington. I think that like Muir teammate Kevon Seymour, most people will see Owens’ stats and shake their head as to all the college interest. Well, both are athletes and they project as the type of talents that big-time programs want. Owens worked behind an offensive line last season that lacked depth and had injury issues. He ran for 822 yards and 10 TDs. Muir’s line play and depth will determine just how big of a senior season he will have.
4. Jamel Hart, Sr., South Hills — Hart has lived up to the hype at South Hills, doing his part despite inconsistency of teammates or injuries to other key players around him. Like the top two on this list, Hart can run with power or run away from defenders. He rushed for 1,318 yards and 17 scores last season despite everybody knowing what was coming. The return of receiver Jamie Canada would take a lot of pressure off. When South Hills’ line was interested last year, they were a solid unit. With some key names gone to graduation, you have to wonder how Hart will be affected.
5. Michael Ortega, Sr., St. Paul — Ortega combines with fullback David Cabral to form a potent tandem. He will see a ton of action as its no secret what St. Paul wants to do. The Swordsmen have enough talent returning all over the field to make it obvious that every facet of the game should be even better this season … and that includes the running game where Ortega (and Cabral) should shine.
6. Corey Victoria, Sr., Glendora — Victoria figures to see his stats inflate in new coach Todd Quinsey’s run-friendly system. The senior was excellent in short-yardage situations and was a nice a compliment to QB Chad Jeffries last season. But this year Victoria will have to be the show instead of the supporting cast. Should be no problem and that’s for one major reason — the kid knows how to RUN NORTH/SOUTH (it’s a lost art these days).
7. De’Shawn Ramirez, Sr., Monrovia — I’m going on the assumption that Ramirez will be cleared to play. As a sophomore, Ramirez flashed signs of greatness and it’s pretty well known throughout the west SGV that Ramirez will be one of the top, if not the top, backs in the area. Remember, he had 851 yards as a soph and has now matured more physically.
8. Kurt Scoby, So., Charter Oak — None of CO’s stable of backs last year really distinguished themselves last year. Expect that to change this year with Scoby becoming one of the top rushers around for the next three years. Scoby has gotten more physically mature and has added quite a bit of muscle this offseason. I expect him to easily pass 1,000 yards and that’s saying something given CO’s new league/division surroundings.
9. Tony Botello, Sr., Pioneer — Nobody does more with less than Botello. The pint-sized speedster is listed at 5-foot-5, 155 pounds, but that didn’t stop him from rushing for 1,189 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Pioneer went 5-5 last season and lost to La Serna and Santa Fe by a combined 105-7. Does that drive home just how impressive of a one-man show Botello is?
10. O.J. Medina, Sr., La Serna — Medina was the compliment to Richard Alvarez last year, but still managed 765 yards on 96 carries. He also had eight touchdowns. Those are pretty good numbers considering Alvarez tallied 1,100 yards and 25 touchdowns. Medina will be the main man this year and shouldn’t disappoint considering La Serna’s commitment to the run.
THOUGHTS AND SLEEPERS: Covina’s Gevontray Ainsworth just missed the cut here, but I truly believe that with last year under his belt, he could easily find his way onto this list. If you wanted to put him there now, no argument. Same with Whittier Christian’s Grant Escobar, who had a 1,000-yard season last year. Diamond Bar’s Jamaal Clayton also looks poised for a big season. Rosemead always has a 1,000-yard back and this year it might be Matt Eddy. There are several teams that have more than one good running back. West Covina comes to mind. If Aaron Salgado was the feature back on his team, he’d probably be on the list. Same with Cabral at St. Paul or Michael Harris at Monrovia, who will be running the show if Ramirez isn’t reinstated.