Arizona’s top high school football players: Meet the state’s best running backs

Over the next two weeks, we’ll be taking a position-by-position look at some of the top players in Arizona high school football. Our second list focuses on the running backs.

There are hundreds of standout football players in Arizona and these lists are not intended to be comprehensive. Let us know in the comments section which other backs are worthy of fans’ attention in 2020.

Eli Sanders photo courtesy of Paul Mason Photography

Earlier: Quarterbacks

Anyale Velazquez, jr., Corona del Sol

Velazquez has improved upon his numbers from 2019, when he ran for 720 yards and earned second-team all-Central 6A honors. He ranks third in the conference with 783 yards rushing (130.5 per game) and has 11 touchdowns to help the surprising Aztecs start 6-0.

Aziya Jamison, jr., Williams Field

Jamison joined a crowded Black Hawks backfield when he transferred from American Leadership Academy-Queen Creek in August, citing personal reasons for the move. He ran for 1,761 yards (9.8 per carry) and 26 touchdowns last season in being named conference player of the year and leading the Patriots to the 3A state title. After sitting out the first four weeks this season, Jamison — who sports offers from BYU and Arizona State — has 15 carries for 78 yards and a touchdown in two games.

Bryan Bogardus, jr., Saguaro

Bogardus was born in Luga, Russia, a town 85 miles south of St. Petersburg near the Estonia border. He was adopted by Tim and Heather Bogardus and moved to the United States, living in Houston and Nashville (playing in the youth football championship at Vanderbilt Stadium one year) before moving to the Scottsdale area. He earned all-region honors at Horizon last year before transferring to Saguaro in the offseason. He missed the first four weeks, seeing his first action in the Sabercats’ Week 5 win over Casteel. 

Bryson Alder, sr., Wickenburg

Alder is the first running back in Arizona to go over 1,000 yards this season, doing so in Week 6, when he ran for 120 yards in a loss to Phoenix Christian to give him 1,065 yards and 13 touchdowns this fall. Last season, he received all-conference honorable mention when he ran for 1,002 yards and nine touchdowns.

Caden Calloway, sr., Campo Verde

Calloway spearheaded the Coyotes’ surprise run to their first state championship game last fall, earning first-team all-conference honors and gaining 1,739 yards and 22 touchdowns before going down with an ankle injury in the 5A state semifinals. He’s come back this fall and ranks third in the conference with 611 yards. He has five touchdowns. “We were not sure he would be able to play this year, much less return to a level that is comparable to what he was playing at last year prior to the injury,” Campo Verde coach Ryan Freeman said.  

Caden Calloway / Campo Verde High School

Cameron Mack, jr., Peoria

Mack earned second-team all-West Valley 4A honors as a sophomore, running for 891 yards and 14 touchdowns. This year, he’s in a timeshare with senior Brandon Price, but he leads the Panthers with 408 yards on 87 carries and has two touchdowns.

Christian Johnson, sr., Greenway

Johnson ran for 1,693 yards and 21 touchdowns as a junior and made the all-Skyline 4A first team. He opened this season with a 323-yard performance against Moon Valley and ranks fourth in the conference with 806 yards. He has nine touchdowns. 

Cooper Zellner, soph., Gilbert

Zellner is one of the top Class of 2023 running back prospects in the state, which he showed in a Week 1 victory over Millennium — 153 yards and a touchdown in his starting debut before spraining his shoulder late in the game. He’s battled through the injury since, missing Week 2 against Mesa and seeing limited action as coach and father Derek Zellner brings him back slowly.

David Cordero, sr., Salpointe Catholic

When you’re backing up two-time Ed Doherty Award winner Bijan Robinson, who became the first running back in state history to gain more than 2,000 yards in three seasons, you learn to be patient and wait your turn. Cordero still earned second-team all-Kino 4A honors last year, when he averaged 11.3 yards per carry (531 yards on 47 attempts) and scored nine touchdowns. This season, he’s gone over 100 yards twice and leads the team with 352 yards (6.5 per carry). “He now has his opportunity to play and be the leader,” Lancers coach Eric Rogers said. “Every time he touches the ball in practice, he runs all the way to the end zone.”

David Cordero / Del Arvay

Dax Lindholm, sr., Centennial

The Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man in the World” might get a run for his money from Lindholm, who has accepted a West Point appointment after earning second-team all-Northwest 5A honors last season. He has taught himself to play the piano and guitar, overcame a propane tank accident in March that left him with severe burns, can long jump 22 feet and has memorized at least one interesting fact (several, if you prod him) about each occupant of the Oval Office. This season, he’s chipped into the running game (31-113-1) and as a receiver out of the backfield (11-132-0).

Earnest Greenwood, sr., Goldwater

Greenwood ran for 1,761 yards and 23 touchdowns as a junior, when he earned first-team all-Desert West 5A honors, and he’s picked up where he left off this fall, ranking fifth in the conference with 598 yards despite missing the past three games.

Eli Sanders, sr., Chandler

Sanders ran for 878 yards and nine touchdowns as a sophomore at Mountain Pointe before transferring to Chandler before his junior season. He sat out five games, and Wolves coach Rick Garretson praised his patience as he bided his time before gaining eligibility. “It’s two totally different cultures, but he adapted really well,” Garretson said.

Sanders announced his return with a 184-yard, three-touchdown debut effort against Perry and finished the year with 643 yards and 10 touchdowns backing up conference player of the year Daveon Hunter. Sanders committed to Boise State over the summer and now ranks among the 6A leaders in rushing with 662 yards and 11 touchdowns for the No. 3 team in the SBLive Power 25. “He got the opportunity to be the No. 1 guy this year and has been phenomenal,” Garretson said. 

Evan Lovett, sr., Pusch Ridge

Lovett has rushed for more yards this season than he did last year, when he gained 775 yards and earned first-team all-South 3A honors. He’s gone over 100 yards four times this season, including a career-high 223 yards on 10 carries in a Week 5 win over San Tan Foothills. He’s fourth in the conference with 818 yards and has nine touchdowns for the 5-1 Lions.

Hunter Ogle, sr., Santa Cruz Valley

Ogle might be one of the state’s toughest pound-for-pound players regardless of conference — a status he earned as a freshman starter at middle linebacker, when he played the whole season with a fractured wrist. “That lets you know just how tough and committed he was at a young age,” said Dust Devils coach Rishard Davis. Ogle since has developed into a top running back, rushing for 1,844 yards and 23 touchdowns last season and earning first-team all-conference honors for a 2A state semifinalist. He leads the conference this fall with 977 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Jacob Cisneros, sr., Boulder Creek

One of the keys to the Jaguars’ 5-1 start has been the play of Cisneros, a first-team all-Desert Valley 6A pick as a junior when he amassed 2,516 all-purpose yards — including 1,472 on the ground with 12 touchdowns. He’s run for 885 yards (second in 6A) and nine touchdowns this fall and caught 30 passes for 454 yards and six scores. He has received interest from several Ivy League schools and the University of San Diego. 

Jacob Cisneros / Boulder Creek High School

Jacob Thurman, sr., Shadow Ridge

Thurman earned all-Southwest 6A honors last year playing behind first-team all-region back Michael Clark. He’s seized the starting role this fall and ranks among the conference’s top rushers. He’s fifth with 615 yards (five touchdowns) on 77 carries.

Jaden Mason, sr., McClintock

Mason nearly cracked the 1,000-yard plateau last season, when he earned second-team all-Northeast Valley 5A recognition. He’s well on his way to reaching that total this fall with 807 yards and a conference-best 11 touchdowns through six games.

James Scott, jr., Centennial

The Coyotes always seem to have a stable of running backs at their disposal, but each of the past two years, Scott has been the lead back. Last season, he led a balanced attack with 524 yards, averaging 9.9 yards per run, and this fall, he again tops the team with 457 yards and seven touchdowns on 75 carries. 

Jared Williams, sr., Chaparral

Williams’ follow-up to a junior season in which he earned first-team all-conference honors with 1,034 yards and 21 touchdowns for an Open Division quarterfinalist had to wait three weeks because of COVID-19. Since the Firebirds returned in Week 4, though, Williams has not disappointed, running for 169 yards in his season debut against Brophy Prep and scoring four touchdowns in last week’s victory over Casteel.

Jared Williams / Shari Miller – SLM Images

Jeryll McIntosh, jr., Desert Edge

McIntosh picked up where he left off in 2019, when he earned first-team all-West Valley 4A honors and ran for 1,325 yards to help the Scorpions reach the state final. The program moved up to 5A this year and appears poised to qualify for the Open Division bracket, with McIntosh leading the conference and sitting third in the state with 937 yards (eight touchdowns) on 148 carries.

Kaden Cloud, jr., Williams Field

Cloud picked up an offer from Oregon State over the summer after a sophomore campaign in which he rushed for 1,277 yards and 16 touchdowns to lead the Black Hawks to the 5A state title. This year, even with the addition of 3A player of the year Aziya Jamison and the emergence of junior Lasjawn Hunter around him, Cloud is still the alpha dog in the Williams Field backfield, leading the team with 458 yards and five touchdowns on 92 carries.

Kavaughan Clark, soph., Centennial

Clark, who sports an offer from Nevada, has a bright future with the Coyotes and right now serves as a powerful 1-2 punch with top runner James Scott in the backfield. Clark has rushed for 373 yards and two touchdowns this season. “K was a special player as a freshman last year. You could see that,” Centennial coach Richard Taylor said. “He has a lot of upside, and the more he learns and feels comfortable, the better he is going to be.” 

Logan Gingg, sr., Verrado

Gingg had big games in the past for the Vipers, including a 303-yard, four-touchdown performance in the 2019 season opener against South Mountain that sparked a first-team all-Desert West 5A season that finished with 1,412 yards and 20 touchdowns. But there’s been no game bigger for the University of San Diego commit than last week’s against Ironwood, when he ran for 385 yards and six touchdowns to lift Verrado to victory.  

Luis Jaramillo, sr., Flagstaff

Jaramillo, a first-team all-Grand Canyon 4A pick a year ago, has the Eagles in contention for their first state playoff berth since 2007. He ranks second in the conference with 858 yards and 12 touchdowns on 104 carries.

Marquise Byrd, sr., Benjamin Franklin

The Chargers graduated four backs who gained at least 700 yards rushing last year in leading them to the 3A state final. Byrd emerged as the top contender to replace those yards with a 142-yard, three-touchdown effort in Week 1 against Seton Catholic, and he had a team-high 371 yards and five touchdowns through four games before the program went into COVID-19 quarantine.

Max Davis, sr., Highland

A two-week stretch during which Davis, an honorable mention all-region pick a year ago, put up what Hawks coach Brock Farrel called “video game” numbers — a combined 534 yards and nine rushing touchdowns in wins over Sandra Day O’Connor and Perry — propelled him to the top of the 6A leaderboard with 908 yards and 15 touchdowns on 108 carries.

Max Davis / Donna Mundy Photography

Nicolas Nesbitt, sr., Chandler

In fantasy football parlance, Nesbitt might be among the best handcuffs in Arizona high school football. He has only 36 carries playing behind Boise State commit Eli Sanders in the Wolves backfield, but Nesbitt has run for 333 yards (9.3 per carry) and six touchdowns. “He would be a 1-back guy on just about any other team in the state,” Chandler coach Rick Garretson said. “Nick is a power guy who can take it to the house as well.”

Noah Schmidt, sr., Hamilton

Schmidt found himself looking for a new football home when Colorado determined first to cancel the fall season, then announced that schools could choose to play in the fall or spring. The uncertainty led Schmidt, who ran for 1,815 yards and 16 touchdowns for Grandview in Aurora, Colo., to transplant to Arizona, settling in with the Huskies and giving them a lead back to replace 1,000-yard runner Gabriel Armenta. Schmidt has rushed for 442 yards and eight touchdowns in five games for the No. 24 team in the SBLive Power 25.

Payton Barlow, jr., Queen Creek

Barlow bided his time behind two all-region running backs last season, first-teamer Jace Bond and second-teamer Dayson Coleman, but he’s made his presence known this year, ranking seventh among 6A rushers with 512 yards (four touchdowns) through six weeks.

Reese Marziale, jr., Mountain View (Mesa)

With top backs Deshaun Jackson and Joe Ball having graduated, Toros coach Micah Fell entered the season hoping Marziale would pick up the slack. He has delivered for Mountain View, ranking among the conference leaders with 459 yards and six touchdowns on 89 carries to help the team start 6-0.  

Reese Marziale / Mountain View (Mesa) High School

Stevie Rocker, sr., Canyon del Oro

The Dorados finally returned to the gridiron Oct. 30, leaving them ineligible for the AIA playoffs but at least giving Rocker, a University of Arizona commit, a chance to finish his career the right way after an injury-plagued junior season cost him the first half of the campaign. Even when he returned, his ankle never felt 100 percent. Rocker emerged as a sophomore in 2018 when he ran for 1,163 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Tommy Arnold, sr., Sunrise Mountain

Arnold last season was the Mustangs’ primary backup to all-region running back Jackson Underhill, getting only 40 carries as a junior, but he announced himself this fall with a 214-yard performance in a Week 2 win over Mesquite. He sits seventh among 5A rushing leaders with 489 yards and has eight touchdowns on 76 carries. “He’s deceptive with his speed, but he’s a thick, strong runner,” Sunrise Mountain coach Steve Decker said.

Tommy Arnold / Sunrise Mountain High School

Zaccheus Cooper, soph., Liberty

Cooper provided Lions fans a glimpse of his potential as a freshman during a four-game stretch in which he rushed for more than 100 yards in each game, jump-starting the team’s run to the 6A state title. That stretch was sandwiched by foot and leg injuries that cost him six games to start the season and the state final to end it. While he hasn’t put up huge numbers this fall — 298 yards on 74 carries — he’s been a threat in the passing game (25 catches for 366 yards), and a three-touchdown performance in a Week 6 win over Pinnacle might jump-start another dominant stretch. “We’ve been trying to use him in a lot of different ways to get him the ball,” Liberty coach Colin Thomas said. “He’s been playing good football, and we’ve been clicking the last month.”

Zach Bennett, sr., Coconino

Bennett finished second to Salpointe Catholic’s Bijan Robinson among 4A rushers a year ago, earning Grand Canyon region offensive player of the year honors after running for 1,753 yards and 22 touchdowns. He hasn’t slowed down in 2020, rushing for at least 102 yards in each game and leading the conference with 925 yards with 11 touchdowns. He became the Panthers’ all-time leading rusher in their Week 6 victory at Mingus, giving him 3,888 yards for his career.

Zach Bennett / Becky Cain

Zach Hammett, jr., River Valley

Hammett was an all-conference kick returner and all-West 3A region running back as a sophomore, running for 1,264 yards and 10 touchdowns to help the Dust Devils return to the state playoffs after a two-year absence. This season, he ranks fifth among conference rushing leaders with 781 yards on 73 carries (10.7 per carry). He has 11 touchdowns.

Zion Burns, sr., Poston Butte

Burns, a second-team all-conference selection last year and a Nevada commit, ran for 1,542 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2019 and has led the Broncos to a 5-1 start this year with 843 yards (third in 4A) and 12 touchdowns. Every carry Burns has taken the past two seasons, he’s done in memory of his younger brother, Malik, who died just before the start of his junior season from pediatric bone cancer. Said coach Dain Thompson: “If at times he appears to play with unworldly passion — he may be!”

Zion Burns / Poston Butte High School

MORE: 2020 ARIZONA HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PREVIEW

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