Gatorade, check. Oxygen, check. Smelling salts, check. Damon Kuklinski is playing running back, too!
If last year was the Year of the Quarterback in the SGV, then this year is the Year of the Running Back (that could be my lead for the football preview right there). I could go on and on with this list because the Valley is up to its eyes in talented ball carriers. Some teams even have multiple options at the position. I’m a little concerned about the fact that many teams may not have a good quarterback to go along with their stud running back, meaning it won’t take much to derail the seasons of several of the names on this list by stacking up against the run. Wasn’t it Mr. Miyagi who once said balance is the most important thing in life. Ahh, something like that. Anyway, here we go … I’m pretty rock solid on this list, but as always I’m open to a little spirited jousting where opinions may vary.
1. Bryce McBride, Los Altos – If LA doesn’t find a QB, then what should be a great season for McBride could be only just OK. It won’t take Charter Oak, Damien or South Hills long to figure out what they need to do to beat Los Altos. And you could see the blue visor go flying if LA isn’t capable of keeping the heat off with a little play action here or there. But the positives pointing toward McBride having one of the best seasons around is the fact that he should simply run away from many of the opponents on LA’s docket. Then there’s the advantage of having guys like Nick Longoria and even tight end Ray Rodriguez clearing the way for him. Conqs coach Greg Gano is savvy enough to get McBride the ball in every which way and even tailor an offense around him if the QB situation doesn’t get better.
2. Chris Harris, Duarte – Harris led the SGV in rushing last year as a junior. Granted, much of that was against inferior competition, but he did rack up 166 yards against Glendora, 241 against La Canada and 189 against Santa Clara. Even the 95 yards against Verbum Dei looks respectable. Don’t expect the numbers to change much this year and they could get slightly better even though tackle Mike Harris is now at UCLA. The presence of QB Austin Goldsmith means that teams can’t just gang up on Harris without facing the prospect of getting beat deep. Harris also figures to move forward physically and the speed is already there to turn a crease into a breakaway.
3. Nico Barbone, San Dimas – Barbone was the worst kept secret in the SGV last year. He was hyped going into his sophomore season and delivered in spades by rushing for 1,330 yards and 12 TDs. The bad news for opposing defenses is that Barbone has evidently put in his time this off-season. He got faster and more agile by taking in part Jimmy Nolan’s SpeedKillz camp. He’s also reportedly gotten stronger via the weight room. Add it all up and Barbone is going to be an even bigger load this season … one who might run away from a few more people, too.
4. Tim Gilmore, Wilson – Some coaches I’ve spoken to believe Gilmore might be the best athlete in the SGV. I’m not totally sure how the Wildcats are going to use him this year. I’d expect him to get a lot of carries, but also some receptions. Gilmore is extremely fast and capable of winning some games all by himself. Against CO or LA, the solo act won’t work. So it will be up to ‘Cats OC Greg Willig to complete the package with other options.
5. Kanaan Snowden, Charter Oak – The Chargers are legitimately three deep at RB this season. But I expect what started late last season to continue this year, and that’s Snowden getting the bulk of the carries. Snowden’s best attribute isn’t speed or breaking tackles, it’s the fact that he hits the right whole and rarely messes with any east/west movements. Snowden has improved physically this off-season and should be ready to build on last year’s late-season emergence.
6. Brian Spirlin, Diamond Ranch – Spirlin was the Panthers’ original starter last year before getting hurt very early in the season. His off-season has been confusing, just like everything else Diamond Ranch. There were rumors of Spirlin transferring to Colony, but it didn’t happen. If healthy, he’s a compact runner with good speed and the ability to shrug off tacklers. Spirlin is expected to be the Panthers’ workhorse and the presence of other weapons should make it so that he doesn’t have to deal with opponents focusing solely on him.
7. Evan Heard, South Hills – I still can’t get over Heard’s physical maturation. The D-1 frame is in place for the versatile junior. But I keep hearing talk of Damon Kuklinski sharing time in the backfield. Given Heard’s versatility and ability to catch the ball, he could play an all-purpose role that will see him line up all over the field. I don’t think Heard will be totally shutout of the carries, and if anything, he should see the bulk of the load since Kuklinski’s first priority is linebacker. Expect another major step forward by Heard this season.
8. Howard Martin, Northview – Just like all members of the Vikings’ ballyhooed Class of ’09, Martin will be expected to take a major step forward this year. There are so many skill players poised for breakout seasons in Northview’s offense, it’s hard to believe there’s enough yardage to go around. But the base of Northview’s offense will be running the ball and Martin should be a force in that department. He’s arguably the top breakout candidate on the list.
9. Damon Kuklinski, South Hills – When I visited Huskies practice, Kuklinski was working with the RBs. How can the area’s top linebacker pull double duty at running back, especially the way Kuklinski plays LB. You could look at Kuklinski’s frame and see it as being possible. This is yet another player who has certainly improved his appearance during the off-season. Wow! Kuklinski has always had the footwork to make for a good running back. I worry about his endurance playing two demanding positions. But he should be good for 10-15 carries a game and that could be enough for some excellent numbers. Kuklinski got carries last year, so this will be nothing new.
10. Marcus Wagner, Bishop Amat – If the Lancers coaching staff would definitively commit to Wagner being the feature back, then he’d shoot up this list. But like Kuklinski, Wagner also plays LB and I just don’t see how he can hold up doing both. Wagner simply looks painful to tackle. Think bowling ball with speed … and with a good offensive line clearing the way, wow! But coaches are treating the QB and RB scrambles like top secret info, so I have no clue what Wagner’s load will be.