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

By Jeff Halpern | Photo by Jimmy Jones

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a position-by-position look at some of the top players in Arkansas high school football. This list focuses on the running backs. (Quarterbacks)

There are hundreds of standout football players in Arkansas and these lists are not intended to be comprehensive. Use the comments section to discuss the other running backs worthy of fans’ attention in 2021. 

Dede Johnson, 5-10, 175, junior, Searcy

Johnson has rushed for 1,473 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Lions, who are 4-3 on the season. He’s also caught 10 passes for 124 yards and 1 touchdown. He rushed for 306 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 44-7 victory over West Memphis and for 305 and 6 touchdowns in a 43-13 victory over Sheridan. He added 217 yards and 1 touchdown in a 37-725 loss to Marion and 210 yards and 2 touchdowns in a 61-28 victory over Pine Bluff.

“He has good vision and great balance. Dede is extremely difficult to tackle and has breakaway speed,” said Searcy coach Zak Clark.

Joe Himon, 5-11, 185, senior, Pulaski Academy

Himon, who gave Northwestern an oral commitment, has rushed for nearly yards and 18 touchdowns for the 7-1 Bruins. He’s also caught 37 receptions for 389 yards and 2 touchdowns. Some of his highlights include 197 yards rushing and 4 touchdowns, along with 12 catches for 171 yards and 1 touchdown in 63-39 victory over Madison-Ridgeland (Miss.) Academy. He caught 10 passes for 102 in 64-28 loss to Lipscomb Academy (Tenn.) and 10 passes for 99 yards and 1 touchdown vs. White Hall.

“Joe is special!” said first-year Pulaski Academy Coach Anthony Lucas. “He’s a very talented football player with a high football IQ.  Joe works extremely hard in the weight room and classroom. He has set goals for himself every summer that I have known him as he approaches football season and for the most part, he achieves them pardon injury.  Joe is very passionate about playing and with every honor that he receives, he gives all the glory to God and his teammates.  He is the type of young man that every coach would want on his team.”

Darryl Katich, 6-1, 195 senior, Cedarville

Katich leads all of Class 3A in rushing with 1,137 yards and 11 touchdowns and has topped 100 yards on all seven games for 5-2 Cedarville. He had a season-high 206 yards and 4 touchdowns in a 38-36 victory over Lavaca, 194 yards rushing and a touchdown in a 42-20 victory over Berryville and 168 yards and 2 touchdowns in a 42-14 victory over Mansfield.

“Darryl  has had a great season and a great career,” said Cedarville Coach Max Walhausen. “If you had to ask me what is the one thing that makes his great and it’s that he’s durable and tough. He knows he’s going to get the ball 25 times and everyone knows he’s going to get it and he keeps rushing for at least 100 yards every week.”

Tyler Williams, 6-0, 195, senior, Central Arkansas Christian

The Mustangs are under .500 but it’s not the fault of Williams, who’s rushed for 932 yards and 15 touchdowns on the season He has tripped 100 yards five times with a season best of 257 yards and 5 touchdowns in a 55-46 victory over Carlisle. He’s also rushed for 158 yards and 4 touchdowns in a 35-34 victory over Mayflower; and 157 yards and 1 touchdown in a  60-16 loss to Mills and 151 yards and 3 touchdowns in 47-26 loss to Heber Springs.

Da’Shawn Chairs, 5-7, 185, sophomore  Elkins

Chairs has rushed for 965 yards and 20 touchdowns for 6-0 Elkins. Among his highlights are 208 yards and 5 touchdowns in a 49-14 victory over Greenland and 176 yards in a 48-13 victory over Berryville.

“He’s having a great season and to be a sophomore is a tribute to his work ethic and the people we have blocking for him,” said Elkins Coach Zach Watson. “He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve had. He does a lot of the little things right. He’s a complete player.”

Josh Ficklin, 5-11, 200, junior Bentonville

Ficklin had rushed for 950 yards and 14 touchdowns for the 6-22 Tigers with his best game being a 275-yard effort with 5 touchdowns in a 42-21 victory over Springdale Har-Ber. He rushed for 140 yards in the Tigers’ 42-34 loss at Fayetteville two weeks ago.

“We think he’s the best back in the state,” said Bentonville Coach Jody Grant earlier this year. “When he was first here, you could tell he was a little green in some areas,” Grant said. “But it didn’t take us long to realize he was very special.”

Jayvean Dyer-Jones, 5-9, 195, senior Little Rock Christian

Dyer-Jones has rushed for 1,090 yards and 15 touchdowns, topping 100 yards six times for the 6-1 Warriors. He had a season-high 188 yards with 4 touchdowns in a 41-8 victory over Little Rock Central, 172 yards and 2 touchdowns in a 42-27 win over Magnolia and 115 yards and 2 touchdowns in a 59-0 victory over Center Hill (Miss.)

“Jayvean is having an outstanding year so far,” said LR Christian Coach Eric Cochu.  “He is a strong, hard-nosed power runner that also has speed, quickness, and agility. He has excellent contact balance and superior speed running a 4.5 forty. His work ethic and consistency has made him an excellent leader for our team.”

Sundquist Church, 5-10, 205, senior Fort Smith Northside

Church has rushed for 923 yards and 9 touchdowns on the season including 226 yards and 2 touchdowns in a 63-56 victory over Springdale Har-Ber. He also rushed for 124 yards in a season-opening 31-16 victory over Fort Smith Southside.

Jabrae Shaw, 6-0, 220, senior, Mills

Shaw has seen playing time limited in recent weeks due to injury, but has rushed for 767 yards and 12 touchdowns, including 172 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 40-8 victory over Forest City, 164 yards and 2 touchdowns in a 56-38 victory over Hope, a 153-yard effort with 3 touchdowns in a 60-16 victory over Central Arkansas Christian and 136 yards and 2 touchdowns in a 36-20 victory over Jacksonville.

C.J. Dickerson, Gurdon, 5-7, 155 Senior

Dickerson has rushed for 793 yards and seven touchdowns on the season for the 6-2 Go Devils. Among his highlights are 220 yards and 1 touchdown in a 60-18 victory over Lafayette County, 200 yards and 4 touchdowns in a 49-14 victory over Foreman and 120 yards and 1 touchdown in a 50-8 victory over Mineral Springs.

Boogie Carr, 5-9, 175, junior, Conway

Carr has rushed for 754 yards and seven touchdowns for the 6-1 Wampus Cats. Among his highlights are 134 yards rushing on 20 carries with 1 touchdown in a 38-10 victory over North Little Rock, 84 yards rushing on 16 carries and 2 touchdowns in a 57-21 victory over Cabot and 93 yards rushing in a 23-21 victory over Fort Smith Northside.

Chris Gannaway, 5-11, 160, junior, Bryant

Gannaway has rushed for 508 yards and 11 touchdowns and caught 10 passes for 162 yards and 2 touchdowns for the 6-1 Hornets. His longest run of the season is 80 yards and his longest reception is 90 yards.

James Jointer, 6-0, 195, senior, Little Rock Parkview

Joinetr has rushed for 787 yards and 10 touchdowns for the 4-3 Patriots, including a 268-yard effort with 5 touchdowns in a 48-28 victory over defending Class 6A state champion Greenwood.

Josh Shepherd, 5-11, 170, senior, Rogers

Shepherd has rushed for 1,025 yards and 8 touchdowns for the Mounties, The highlight of his season was a 402-yard effort on 15 carries with 6 touchdowns, including runs of 52, 63, 64, 72 and 90 yards in a 51-40 victory over Siloam Springs.

“He’s done a good job just from a mental perspective of just learning and understanding and paying a lot of attention to what actually goes on in front of him so he’s able to set up his runs better,” said Rogers Coach Chris Harbison earlier this season. “He’s blocking better and understanding defensive things.”

Jaylen Hopson, 5-7, 158, senior, Prescott

Hopson has rushed for 898 yards on 61 carries (14.7 average) with 15 touchdowns 7-0 Curley Wolves. As a junior, he rushed for 900 yards and 15 touchdowns while averaging 13.2 yards per carry. In a 50-41 victory over Centerpoint, he had 173 of his game-high 223 yards and 4 touchdowns in the second half as the Curley Wolves overcame a 35-12 deficit. He had 150 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 56-0 victory over Fouke.

Koby Bradley, 5-11, 175, senior, Nettleton

Bradley had rushed for 889 yards and 11 touchdowns on the season for the Raiders who are 7-0. He had 109 of his 124 yards in the second half in a 28-21 victory over Mountain Home, scoring 3 touchdowns. He scored 3 touchdowns in a 49-0 victory over Paragould.

Tevin Hughes, 5-8, 200, senior, Lake Hamilton

Hughes has rushed for 787 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Wolves, who are 8-0 on the season. He’s had 4, 100-yard games including a season-best 196 yards on 17 carries with 1 touchdown in a 42-32 victory over Russellville. He had 141 yards and 2 touchdowns in a 42-7 victory over Siloam Springs, 139 yards and 4 touchdowns in a 48-14 victory over Hot Springs Lakeside and 119 yards and 1 touchdown in a 35-12 victory over Malvern. As a junior, he rushed for 1,925 yards and 22 touchdowns in leading the Wolves to the Class 6A state championships game, including a school-record 276 yards against Russellville.

“He always makes the first guy miss,” said Lake Hamilton Coach Tommy Gilleran earlier this year. “He finds the gap, hits it quick and runs it hard.”

Ja’coriae Brown, 6-1, 203, senior Camden Fairview

Brown has rushed for 769 yards and 13 touchdowns. After no 100-yards games during the first four games of the season, he had 168 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 28-20 victory over Hot Springs Lakeside, 144 yards and 1 touchdown in a 33-0 victory over Texarkana and 207 yards and 2 touchdowns in a 44-25 victory over Magnolia.

Eli Craig, 5-10, 205, senior, Rogers Heritage

Craig has rushed for 801 yards and 10 touchdowns for the 0-7 War Eagles. His best game was a 239-yard effort with 3 touchdowns in a 28-27 loss to Alma.

Jalen Dupree, 6-0, 180, sophomore, Malvern

Dupree started the season slow for the Leopards, but had a four consecutive 100-yard efforts, starting with a 244-yard, 5-touchdown performance in a 40-20 victory over Bauxite. He followed that with 140 yards and 1 touchdown in a 22-13 win over Benton Harmony Grove, 105 yards in a 21-8 loss to Ashdown and 103 yards in a 35-12 loss to Joe T. Robinson.

Tre Hopkins, 5-9, 176, sophomore, Nashville

Hopkins has lined up at both running back and wide receiver for the 2-5 Scrappers and has shown his versatility with 722 yards rushing and 5 touchdown and 16 receptions for 161 yards. As a rusher, he has four 100-yard games on the season with a season-best 183 yards and 2 touchdowns in a 54-21 loss to Fountain Lake. He had 150 yards in a 62-14 loss to Joe T. Robinson, 140 yards and 1 touchdown in a 41-27 victory over De Queen and 115 yards in a 26-21 loss to Ashdown. As a receiver, his best game was a 6-catch, 80-yard effort in a 35-21 victory over Hope.

Andrew Miller, 5-11, 200, senior, Harding Academy

Miller, who rushed for 1,347 yards and 26 touchdowns last year in leading the Wildcats to the Class 3A state title. This year, he has rushed for 680 yards and 12 touchdowns and has caught 17 passes for 231 yards and 5 touchdowns for the 5-2 Wildcats. “He can do all of the things we need our backs to to,” said Harding Academy Coach Neil Evans earlier this year. “He did a little of everything to help us last year.”

His highlights this season include 161 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns in a 38-0 victory over Mountain View, 150 yards on a 11 carries and 1 touchdown in a 42-7 victory over Heber Springs and 130 yards on 13 carries and 3 touchdowns in a 59-18 victory over Camden Harmony Grove. As a receiver, he has four games with three receptions with a season-high 59 yards and 2 touchdowns in a 38-7 victory over Riverview.

Ty Massey, 5-11, 205, senior, Fort Smith Northside

Massey has rushed for 724 yards and seven touchdowns for the Grizzlies, who are 5-3 on the season. Among his highlights are a 146-yard effort with 2 touchdowns in a 63-56 victory over Springdale Har-Ber, 124 yards in a 31-16 victory over Fort Smith Southside.

Hunter Alexander, 5-10, 170, senior, Bigelow

Alexander has rushed for 693 yards and 11 touchdowns after rushing for 942 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior. He rushed for 120 yards and 3 touchdowns in a victory over Magazine.

Cam Anderson, 5-10, 180, senior Marion

Anderson has rushed for 668 yards and 7 touchdowns for the 3-4 Patriots. Among the highlights are a 227-yard effort with 2 touchdowns including an 84-yard score in a 37-25 victory over Searcy.

Torrance Moore, 5-11, 185, junior, North Little Rock

Moore has rushed for 680 yards and 12 touchdowns for the 6-1 Charging Wildcats. He rushed for 142 yards on 20 carries in a 42-7 victory over Little Rock Catholic. He had 153 yards on 15 carries in a 58-28 victory over Springdale Har-Ber and 119 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns in a 62-14 victory over Little Rock Southwest.

Kyler Austin, 6-0, 175, sophomore, Gravette

Austin’s varsity debut season has been strong for the struggling Lions with 646 yards and 7 touchdowns and 11 receptions for 134 yards and 1 touchdown. His best game was a 183-yard effort with 3 touchdowns in a 44-25 loss to Prairie Grove. He also rushed for 175 yards and 2 touchdowns in a 42-38 loss to Elkins and 167 yards and 1 touchdown in a 17-16 loss to Inola, Okla.

Hayden Partain, 6-1, 220, senior, Cedarville

Kattich might get the headlines, but Partain has been productive 632 yards and 5 touchdowns, including 4, 100-yard games. Partain’s best game was a 125-yard effort with 1 touchdown in a 40-20 loss to Charleston. He had 120 yards and 1 touchdown in a 30-14 victory over West Fork, 113 yards on a 17 carries in a 38-36 loss to Lavaca and 104 yards on a 11 carries in a 42-14 victory over Mansfield. He’s also caught five passes for 50 yards.

Tyrance Marks, 5-10, 175, sophomore, Foreman

Marks has been a bright spot for the 0-7 Gators with 630 yards, 7 touchdowns and three 100-yard games. He’s also caught 17 passes for 230 yards. He had 138 pads and 3 touchdowns in a 48-28 loss to Dierks, He also had 121 yards on 16 carries and 1 touchdown in a 50-20 loss to Genoa Central and 120 yards on a 19 carries and 1 touchdown and caught 7 passes for 110 yards in a 21-12 loss to Murfreesboro.

Walker Ward, 6-0, 155, junior, Walnut Ridge

Ward has rushed for 612 yards and 4 touchdowns and caught 17 passes for 218 yards and 2 touchdowns for the 4-3 Bobcats. He’s had 2, 100-yard efforts, led by a 190-yard performance with 2 touchdowns on 14 carries in a 54-0 victory over Palestine-Wheatley and 117-yard effort on 22 carries in a 14-12 loss to Harrisburg. His best game from a receiving standpoint was seven catches for 80 yards in a 40-22 loss to Salem.

Eli Masingale, 5-11, 185, junior, Ozark

Masingale has rushed for 603 yards and 8 touchdowns for the 4-2 Hillbillies with 3, 100-yard efforts, including one game with 200 yards on 4 carries with 3 touchdowns in a 55-24 victory over Dover, a 158-yard effort on 9 carries with 2 touchdowns in a 42-7 victory over Dardanelle and 125 yards on 14 carries and 2 touchdowns in a 47-8 victory over Mena.

Braylen Russell, 6-1, 210, sophomore, Hot Sprigs Lakeside

Russell has rushed for 602 yards and 8 touchdowns for the 3-4 Rams.

Shadarioius Plummer, 5-10, 160, junior El Dorado

Plummer has rushed for 599 yards and 7 touchdowns for the 6-2 Wildcats with 2, 100-yard games, including a 119-yard performance on 6 carries with 2 touchdowns in a 48-0 victory over Sheridan and a 114-yard effort on 12 carries with 1 touchdown in a 36-7 victory over Marion.

Justin Crutchmer, 5-11, 180, junior, Lake Hamilton

Crutchmer has rushed for 585 yards and scored 10 touchdowns with 4, 100-yard efforts. His best game was a 170-yard effort on 14 carries with 1 touchdown in a 24-14 victory over Little Rock Parkview. He had 138 yards on 12 carries and scored 4 touchdowns in a 36-7 victory over Mountain Home. He had 124 yards on 11 carries and 3 touchdowns in a 42-7 victory over Siloam Springs and 101 yards on 5 carries and 1 touchdown in a 41-0 victory over Hot Springs.

Jake Glover, 5-5, 145, junior, Greenwood

Glover has rushed for 576 yards and 7 touchdowns for the 5-2 Bulldogs. He had 126 yards on 17 carries in a 48-28 loss to Little Rock Parkview and 100 yards on 18 carries and 1 touchdown in a 31-7 victory over Mountain Home.

Daryl Searcy, 6-1, 195, senior, Joe T. Robinson

Searcy has rushed for 623 yards and 8 touchdowns for the 6-1 Senators. He has 2, 100-yard games, including a 122-yard performance on 14 carries with 3 touchdowns in a 56-32 victory over Arkadelphia and 103 yards on 11 carries and 1 touchdown in a 35-12 victory over Malvern.

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