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

By René Ferrán, Mike Wilson, Bob Lundeberg, Paul Valencia and Jarrid Denney

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

There are hundreds of standout football players in Oregon 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.

Find our team-by-team breakdowns for every 6A, 5A and 4A team in Oregon at this link

Jamar Flippen (Banks) photo by Leon Neuschwander

Aaron Jones, 5-10, 185, Sr., Westview

Jones boosted his stock by transferring to Pleasant Grove, Utah, last year after the OSAA postponed the fall season. He showed off his versatility with the Vikings by finishing second on the team in rushing (209 yards on 52 carries) and receiving (24 catches for 251 yards). He announced last week that he has committed to Navy after drawing interest from BYU, Air Force and Colorado State. He’s coming back from an injury, sitting out Week 1 and playing mostly on defense against Mountainside in Week 2. “He’s an athlete who is great in space and plays both sides of the ball,” Wildcats coach Ryan Atkinson said. 

Blake Lewis, 5-7, 155, Sr., Cascade

On offense, Lewis runs like a “bowling ball” with breakaway speed. Cougars coach Brandon Bennett likens Lewis to a Marshawn Lynch-type of running back with the way he runs. In practice, coaches need Lewis to dial it down a bit. “He can only go about 70 percent at practice or he’d hurt everybody,” Bennett said. 

Braden Carson, 5-7, 145, Sr., La Grande

Carson had quite the workload during the compressed high school sports seasons. Besides being one of the top players on the football team in the spring, he won a 4A wrestling title at 138 pounds in June, helping lead the Tigers to a runner-up team finish. “Braden is a true competitor and a great leader who has no problem leading by example,” La Grande coach Rich McIlmoil said. “He loves this game and never gives up.”

Brady Kopetz, 6-4, 225, Sr., Lincoln

Kopetz, who led the Cardinals with 578 yards and seven touchdowns in the spring, has offers from Eastern Washington, Idaho State and Portland State as Oregon’s No. 16 recruit, according to 247Sports. “What makes this kid stand out to me isn’t his raw athletic ability,” first-year coach Matt Caruso said. “It’s that he’s a great kid. He’s a natural leader. He’s program-first. He’s the least selfish kid that I’ve been around in the program so far.”

Brody Ballard, 5-9, 160, Sr., Monroe

Ballard spent his first couple of seasons as an all-league quarterback for the Dragons. When 2A offensive player of the year Zach Young graduated in 2020, Ballard moved to running back, becoming the primary focus of an offense that has led Monroe to 22 consecutive league victories. He ran for the winning touchdown in overtime in Week 2 against Santiam, capping a 145-yard night on 14 carries.

Bryce Indell, 6-0, 205, Sr., Thurston

During his junior season at Willamette, Indell was a two-way monster for the Wolverines. He racked up 560 yards and nine touchdowns on 79 carries before transferring to Thurston, where he likely will start to draw attention from colleges as he joins a loaded Colts squad. “He’s another guy who played great in the Les Schwab Bowl and is just phenomenal,” Thurston coach Justin Starck said. 

Caden Lasater, 5-11, 185, Sr., Crater

Lasater isn’t just Crater’s leader on both sides of the ball — he’s one of the top players in the state. Comets coach Berk Brown spent 12 years coaching college football and is entering his sixth season coaching high school football. He said Lasater is one of the best players he has coached. “He is one of the most intelligent guys I’ve ever been around,” Brown said. “He’s got a real sense and understanding of the seams he’s trying to hit when he carries the football.” 

Caleb Kim, 5-11, 190, Sr., Sunset

Kim is a three-year starter in the backfield who averaged more than 130 yards per game as a junior, rushing for 784 yards (7.3 per carry) and 13 touchdowns in helping the Apollos go 6-0 in the spring. “A true grinder. Caleb is never satisfied with his effort,” Sunset coach Damien Merrick said. “He will provide invaluable leadership this year.”

Caleb Kim (Sunset) photo by Dan Brood

Camp Lacouture, 5-11, 170, Sr., Siuslaw

Lacouture followed a sophomore season in which he earned all-league recognition on both sides of the ball by rushing for 540 yards and three touchdowns in six games during the spring campaign. He ran for 96 yards and two touchdowns in the Vikings’ season-opening victory against North Valley.

Carson Joe, 5-10, 200, Sr., South Medford

A tireless worker and team leader, Joe made first-team all-Southern Oregon at running back a season ago. “First of all, he’s such a great kid,” Panthers coach Bill Singler said. “He just brings us versatility. With what we like to do on offense, it’s great having a back that can go inside, outside, blocks and can catch the ball out of the backfield.” 

Cayden Eckel, 5-7, 150, So., Roseburg

Eckel was not on many fans’ radars at the beginning of the season, but three consecutive 100-yard games to start his high school career have made him and quarterback Colton Marsters one of the top running duos in Southern Oregon. Roseburg is 3-0 for the first time since 2013.

Cypress Albright, 5-8, 200, Sr., Southridge

Albright averaged nearly seven yards per carry as a junior, running for 216 yards and three touchdowns. “He has a great running back frame with deceiving speed and runs downhill very well,” said Skyhawks coach Kevin Bickler.

David Griffith, 5-7, 160, Jr., Philomath

The Warriors dropped to Class 3A for football two years ago, coinciding with Griffith joining the varsity team to help rebuild the program. After rushing for 285 yards and three touchdowns in a 4-2 spring season, he went for 127 yards and a touchdown while catching three passes for 77 yards and two scores in a Week 1 victory over Valley Catholic. “David is a natural zone runner with above-average vision who can change direction but is also capable of running through contact,” said first-year coach Alex Firth. “He has excellent hands out of the backfield with an explosive burst in the open field. He is a quiet leader on the team and a joy to coach. He has a huge upside being only a junior.”

Donald “Chili” Stephens, 6-0, 220, Jr., Grant

Stephens, who started for the Generals as a sophomore, is rated a three-star recruit by 247Sports and sits No. 7 on its list of Oregon class of 2023 prospects. “He’s a physical runner,” Grant coach John Beck said. “Great vision. Can stop and start on a dime. Great motor.”

Gabe Olvera, 5-10, 175, Sr., Lake Oswego

Olvera got his chance to start toward the end of his sophomore season, when the Lakers moved two-time state player of the year Casey Filkins to a single-wing quarterback. He ran for 157 yards in a first-round playoff win over Grants Pass and helped Lake Oswego reach the final, and he started all four games in the spring, earning first-team all-TRL honors. Offensive coordinator Nick Halberg loves Olvera’s versatility and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. “He will be a guy that moves around a lot offensively,” Halberg said. “He is a big play waiting to happen.” 

Gabe Olvera (Lake Oswego) photo by Taylor Balkom

Gabriel Ward, 5-10, 180, Sr., Junction City

Ward was one of the prime beneficiaries after Max Wall took over as Tigers coach last season. Wall opened the offense and the Tigers averaged 30 points per game during a 5-1 spring season. In this month’s Week 1 victory over North Eugene, he finished with 306 all-purpose yards (including 165 on the ground) and five touchdowns.

Gauge Bloomer, 5-10, 195, Sr., Baker

Bloomer was one of the top running backs in 4A during the spring season, rushing for 682 yards and two touchdowns on 116 carries. Bulldogs coach Jason Ramos called him “a gritty downhill runner and savvy linebacker, a workhorse who will get the bulk of our carries and be a major component of our offense.” 

Gavin Knights, 5-8, 165, Sr., Thurston

There weren’t many running backs in the state who outproduced Bryce Indell in the spring. Knights was one of them, and now the two will operate out of the same backfield and form one of the most prolific running back tandems in Oregon. Knights was second in 5A with 956 yards on 81 carries, and his 13 touchdowns also ranked second. “Gavin was the outstanding back of the Les Schwab Bowl and he’s an all-state type of kid who is just really phenomenal,” Colts coach Justin Starck said. 

Gunner Yates, 6-0, 175, Sr., Coquille

Yates followed a sophomore season during which he rushed for 1,116 yards and 18 touchdowns by being named the Sunset Conference offensive player of the year during the spring season. In the Red Devils’ opener this month against Oakland, he scored on three long touchdowns of 62, 58 and 50 yards in a 20-12 victory.

Hudson Davis, 5-9, 182, Jr., Newberg

Davis returned to the gridiron fresh off winning a 6A wrestling state title in June and earning All-American status with a sixth-place finish at 182 pounds at the 16U Greco-Roman National Championships in Fargo, N.D. As a sophomore, he made the all-Pacific second team on both sides of the ball, rushing for 263 yards and four touchdowns and making 27 tackles. “Talk about an athlete who’s built for being a fullback and linebacker, it’s Hudson,” Tigers coach Jeremy Johnson said. “He’s a dynamic athlete. The upper-body strength he has for a kid his size is next-level.”

Jackson Pfeifer, 5-11, 180, Jr., Silverton

Pfeifer has emerged as the Foxes’ go-to back this season, rushing for 196 yards and four touchdowns to help them romp past Grant and nearly knock off Class 6A No. 1 Tualatin in Week 2.

Jaden Poulshock, 5-8, 165, Sr., David Douglas

Poulshock is a third-year starter on both sides of the ball who brings speed and strength to bear. As a sophomore in 2019, he was the second-leading rusher for the Scots, averaging 9.3 yards per carry en route to totaling 411 yards and rushing for three scores. “He brings that valuable experience as a senior this year,” David Douglas coach Cal Szueber said. “I think he’s one of the better running backs that we have in terms of quickness and knack for the game.” 

Jake Behrman, 6-1, 245, Sr., Estacada

Teammates look up to Behrman, a leader through his play. Behrman has been on varsity since his freshman season. A fullback in the triple-option, he is a big downhill runner who gained 315 yards and scored five touchdowns as a junior.

Jake Fay, 5-11, 185, Sr., Barlow

Fay was the Bruins’ leading rusher last season, posting team highs of 85 carries, 537 yards (6.3 yards per rush) and four touchdowns. First-year coach Tracy Jackson said Fay stands out for his leadership abilities as well as his physical skills. “He’s a hard-nosed runner with good speed,” Jackson said. “Our intention is to be a physical football team, and he embodies that as a running back.”

Jake Fay (Barlow) photo by Taylor Balkom

Jake Reichle, 6-2, 195, Sr., Lakeridge

Reichle made his name as a junior with his play as a safety, but Pacers coach Spencer Phillips has made him a two-way star this season, taking over for all-league running back Andrew Oliver and ensuring Lakeridge hasn’t skipped a beat offensively. Through two games, Reichle had rushed for 396 yards and five touchdowns.

Jamar Flippen, 5-10, 185, Sr., Banks

Flippen has been on varsity since his freshman year, and “he has done a lot of good things for us,” Banks coach Cole Linehan said. Flippen has blazing speed to use as a running back, where he rushed for 340 yards and seven touchdowns as a junior. “He’s going to be the fastest guy on the field,” Linehan said. “One of the most explosive kids I’ve coached. Fun guy to watch.”

Joel Beltran-Martinez, 5-9, 180, Jr., Franklin

Beltran-Martinez is a physical player with great hands. He led the Lightning in rushing in the spring, gaining nearly 300 yards (4.4 yards per carry) and scoring a team-high three touchdowns on the ground. Beltran-Martinez was second on the team with 20 catches, including two for scores. “He makes great decisions with the ball in the open field,” Franklin coach Jesse Thompson said. “He has good agility and makes good yards after contact.”  

Jordan Fisher, 5-8, 170, Jr., Westview

Fisher showed flashes of his abilities as a sophomore, when he split time in the backfield with Matt Lesowski and rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown on 44 carries. This season, Fisher has seized the tailback job for himself, helping lead the Wildcats to a 2-0 start with 352 yards and four touchdowns. “He has great vision and burst,” said Westview coach Ryan Atkinson.

Josiah Davis, 5-11, 205, Jr., North Salem

Davis was by far the Vikings’ leading rusher last season, piling up 766 yards (eight per carry) and a team-high eight touchdowns on the ground. He was a two-way player as a sophomore, and he returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the Mayor’s Cup showdown against South Salem. “He has all the tools to be great,” North Salem coach Jeff Flood said.  

Kohler Hernandez, 5-9, 165, Sr., Central

Hernandez showed flashes of brilliance at running back last season, and Panthers coach Joel Everett called him a special player. “If we can get the holes open long enough to squeak him through, he’s got speed to burn and really great vision,” Everett said.

Kohler Hernandez (Central) photo by Leon Neuschwander

Lawson Talamantez, 5-10, 205, Sr., Seaside

Talamantez had been a tight end, but Seagulls coach Aaron Tanabe moved him to running back to increase his touches, figuring “we want to get our best kid the ball.” Through two games this spring, he had shared the wealth in Seaside’s scheme but had a team-high five touchdowns on the ground.

Lindell Betts, 5-10, 165, Sr., Roosevelt

Betts was lost for the season in the first quarter of the Roughriders’ first game of the spring. Entering the fall season, coach Ryan McCants said Betts is looking stronger than ever and is getting attention from colleges, who will love his 200-plus yards of total offense and two touchdowns in a Week 2 victory over La Salle Prep. “He’s a kid who has done really well with offseason workouts,” McCants said. “He’s extremely explosive. Once he gets a full head of steam, not too many people are going to catch him from behind.”   

Logan Person, 6-1, 190, Sr., Dallas

A tremendous all-around football player, Person is one of the top talents in 5A. He moves between running back and receiver on offense, where he led the Dragons with 543 yards on 55 carries in the spring. “The first thing about Logan is he is all about the team. He is a good leader, and he really does a good job of setting the example of how to do things as hard as possible,” Dallas coach Andy Jackson said. “He’s extremely versatile and had just about as good of a junior year as you could.” 

Lucas Tuski, 6-0, 195, Sr., Marist Catholic

Tuski isn’t just one of the top players for the Spartans; he is one of the top players in the state — at any level. Only two players in 4A ran for more yards last season, and only one scored more rushing touchdowns. Through two games this season, he’d rushed for 329 yards and five touchdowns. “He’s kind of transformed himself,” Marist Catholic coach Frank Geske said. “He’s a heck of a lot faster and he’s dropped about another 10 pounds. He’s running a legit 4.5, 4.6 in the 40-yard dash. He’s going to have a great year.” 

Luke Ash, 5-9, 170, Jr., Clackamas

Ash tore through defenses in the final four weeks of his sophomore season, gaining 646 yards (7.9 yards per carry) and rushing for nine touchdowns — including scoring all four of the team’s touchdowns in the finale at Tigard. “He’s a kid I really trust,” Cavaliers coach James Holan said. “He lives by our code and is another guy who is what we want all of our kids to be like, on and off the field.”

Luke Ash (Clackamas) photo by Leon Neuschwander

Luke Cummings, 6-0, 175, Jr., Astoria

Cummings became a permanent member of the starting backfield in the middle of the spring season. While listed as a running back, Fishermen coach Howard Rub will line him up in the slot from time to time, looking to create mismatches. “He has great acceleration with very good speed, and he is willing to compete,” Rub said. 

Malakai Nutter, 5-8, 185, Jr., Bend

Nutter has emerged from the Lava Bears’ stable of running backs to become the lead in their power running game, amassing 414 yards and six touchdowns in victories over Grants Pass and South Medford. “He is a fireplug; short, stocky and quick,” Bend coach Matt Craven said. “I think he was done growing in height around seventh grade, but he is dynamic.”  

Malik Ross, 6-0, 185, Sr., Tualatin

Ross is an electrifying talent who makes plays in all three phases of the game, including in the backfield, where the state’s 24th-ranked recruit according to 247Sports was a first-team all-TRL selection as a junior (406 yards and five touchdowns on 27 carries). “Hold your breath when he touches the ball,” Timberwolves coach Dan Lever said. “He has the ability to make teams pay on both sides of the ball as well as in the return game.”

Michael Rincon, 5-9, 180, Sr., Jesuit

After serving as the No. 3 back behind a couple of 1,000-yard rushers in Kade Wisher and Ted Atkinson as a sophomore, Rincon was the Crusaders’ workhorse in the spring, running for 718 yards and two touchdowns in five games. He has committed to play lacrosse at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky. “A very shifty and tough runner,” coach Ken Potter said of Rincon, who this season has split time with up-and-coming junior Payton Roth in the backfield. 

Payton Lambert, 6-1, 175, Jr., Pendleton

Lambert has moved moved from wide receiver, where he was second-team all-NWOC East as a sophomore, to the backfield, where Buckaroos coach Eric Davis hoped he could put Lambert’s “unbelievable speed” to better use. Through two games, he’d run for 256 yards and four touchdowns. “I think he has the potential over the next two years to be a highly recruited football kid,” Davis said. 

Payton Roth, 6-3, 210, Jr., Jesuit

Roth was the JV lead back in the spring and figured to spell Michael Rincon, who ran for more than 700 yards last season. Instead, Roth has become the Crusaders’ workhorse, rushing for 313 yards and three touchdowns through three games. “He shows great potential,” Jesuit coach Ken Potter said.

Price Pothier, 5-7, 165, Sr., Newberg

It might seem like Pothier has been around forever for the Tigers — the reigning Pacific Conference offensive player of the year has had an impact on the program since cracking the lineup as a freshman. He rushed for 757 yards and 10 touchdowns last season on 93 carries, putting him at 2,013 career yards entering his final year. “Pound-for-pound, he’s one of the strongest players in the state,” Newberg coach Jeremy Johnson said. “He has that tough, physical, competitive mentality that a lot of running backs say they have, but he truly lives it every day. He’s a pretty special back.” 

Royce Fasel, 6-0, 235, Sr., Glencoe

Yes, the Crimson Tide have Fasel playing caretaker quarterback while sophomore Trevor O’Leary develops, but Fasel’s natural position is as a battering ram in the backfield, where he was a first-team all-Pacific selection the past two seasons and ran for 1,023 yard and 10 touchdowns as a sophomore.

Royce Fasel (Glencoe) photo by Leon Neuschwander

Ryan Powell, 5-10, 175, Sr., Summit

Powell was Summit’s offensive most valuable player in the spring. “One of those guys that is just a tremendous all-around football player and will stand out on both sides of the ball,” Storm coach Corben Hyatt said.  

Sayre Williamson, 5-11, 170, Sr., Mountain View

Williamson backed up star tailback Luke Roberts last season, but the talented runner still received plenty of carries. He is a slasher with the ability to rip off big plays. “Sayre is another kid who has worked really hard and done his training,” Cougars coach Brian Crum said. “He is all football, all the time. You will see him carry the rock a lot, and I know he’s ready for that.”

Shaw Burns, Jr., Hood River Valley

Burns backed up 5A rushing champion Tanner Fletcher during the spring and flashed his potential as a lead back in his own right, averaging more than 10 yards per carry. In his debut as the starter against Hillsboro, he ran for 95 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries.

Tanner Mestas, 5-9, 140, Sr., Bonanza

Mestas has keyed the Antlers’ offense for the past three seasons, and the two-time state placer in wrestling is off to another strong start in his final season, with 307 yards and five touchdowns through two games. 

Tomas Veliz, 5-11, 170, Sr., Woodburn

Veliz was an all-Oregon West receiver in the spring, but second-year coach Ken Mace moved him to the backfield this season, and through two games, Veliz had run for 163 yards and four touchdowns as the Bulldogs opened 2-0. “We’ve got to find a way to get him the ball as much as we can,” Mace said. “He runs. He catches. Just a good all-around athlete.”

Tyler Seiber, 5-9, 160, Sr., South Albany

Seiber is a four-year starter who keyed the RedHawks’ 2-0 start this season. He rushed for 119 yards and three touchdowns in a Week 2 victory over North Salem. “Tyler is a natural athlete with great vision and explosiveness,” South Albany co-coach Jeff Louber said. 

Zeke Heaton, 5-10, 195, Sr., Mazama

Heaton shared time at fullback during the spring, but he showed he’s capable of carrying a heavy load in rushing for 571 yards and eight touchdowns on 108 carries en route to first-team all-Skyline honors. Through two games this season, he’d gained 374 yards and scored six touchdowns. “Zeke will be the guy at fullback,” Vikings coach Vic Lease said. “He has lived in the weight room this summer and will be tough to tackle.”

Find our team-by-team breakdowns for every 6A, 5A and 4A team in Oregon at this link

Thank you for joining the discussion on SBLive!

%d bloggers like this: