SBLive’s Top 10 running backs in Class 1A-4A Texas high school football

Who’s the top running back in Texas high school football? Who has been the most productive back in Texas this season, and which player will lead the state in rushing touchdowns?

We’ll answer these questions and more as SBLive continues breaking down the top 10 players at every position in Class 6A, 5A and 1A-4A/Private Schools for the 2021 Texas high school football season.

Earlier this season, we ranked the top 10 running backs around Texas in both Class 6A and Class 5A. Now we wrap things up by analyzing the top sub-5A RBs across the state this year.

OTHER POSITIONAL TOP 10s:

QUARTERBACKS — Class 6A Top 10 QBs | Class 5A Top 10 QBs | Sub-5A Top 10 QBs

DEFENSIVE BACKS — Class 6A Top 10 DBs | Class 5A Top 10 DBs

RUNNING BACKS — Class 6A Top 10 RBs | Class 5A Top 10 DBs

TOP 10 RUNNING BACKS IN CLASS 1A-4A

1. Rueben Owens, El Campo (4A DI)

The Ricebirds’ junior back takes the top spot on this list after being one of the most elite running backs throughout Texas high school football the last three seasons. He ran for 808 yards and eight rushing scores as a freshman in his varsity debut, but Owens burst onto the season last year as a sophomore and earned a Class 4A honorable mention all-state selection from the Texas Sports Writer Association after running 140 times for 1,511 yards and 22 rushing TDs in his varsity debut. He has followed that up with another surreal season through seven games this fall with 1,736 yards and 26 touchdowns on the ground off 137 carries. Owens leads the state in yards per carry (12.7) and has topped the 100-yard rushing mark in 16 of 19 career varsity starts, including a streak of 12 straight 100-yard games on the ground dating stretching from October 2020 through Week 8 this season. He has also added 243 yards and two receiving touchdowns on 15 career catches. His elusiveness and speed in the open field make him one of the most dangerous offensive playmakers in high school football nationally. Owens, a five-star prospect, is regarded as a top-five junior in Texas high school football and the No. 2 running back recruit across the country in the Class of 2023 according to 247 Sports. He has received official offers from three dozen Power Five programs including offers from Michigan State, SMU and Tennessee since the 2021 Texas high school football season started. Owens also won third place for El Campo in the long jump at the 4A state track and field championships in May.

2. Xavier Wishert, Tuscola Jim Ned (3A DI)

Wishert led all of Texas high school football in rushing yards and touchdowns last season as a junior, and he’s shown no sign of slowing down as a senior. The team’s star running back rushed 320 times for 2,330 yards and 33 rushing TDs to help lead Tuscola Jim Ned to the Class 3A Division I state championship and earned first team all-state honors from the Texas Sports Writers Association in 2020. He’s been borderline unstoppable in 2021 too. Wishert has run for 1,615 yards and 20 touchdowns on 138 carries so far through eight games for the unbeaten Indians. He’s averaging a career-high 11.7 yards per carry, up 3.7 yards per rush from last year, and has netted double-digit yardage per run in five of Tuscola Jim Ned’s first eight games, including a three-touchdown performance where he rushed for 150 yards on five carries in a 70-0 win over San Angelo TLCA during Week 9. He has also topped the 200-yard mark on the ground five times this year and scored three touchdowns or more in half his team’s games, including a 313-yard, three-touchdown performance against Wall in Week 8. The Indians’ senior standout has also been a capable receiver with 42 catches for 424 yards and three touchdowns in 43 career games. Wishert hit his 600th carry for his four-year varsity career last week, and has amassed 4,892 career yards and 61 touchdowns on the ground. He has also been a valuable contributor to Jim Ned as a defender and return specialist throughout his career.

3. Ernest Davila, Poteet (3A DI)

Davila has dominated out of the backfield for the better part of three years for Poteet. The Aggies bell-cow back has been one of the most prolific rushers throughout Texas high school football tallying 5,845 career yards and 59 rushing touchdowns during his three-year career at Poteet. Davila asserted himself as a sophomore in his first season as a starter by rushing for 1,710 yards and 15 touchdowns on 215 carries to earn first team all-district honors. He upped his game as a junior and finished as the District 14-3A DI MVP with 20 rushing TDs and more than 2,000 yards on the ground. Those numbers have nothing on Davila during his senior year in 2021, though. The Aggies’ star back has already rumbled for 2,046 yards, which currently leads all players in Texas high school football, and 24 rushing touchdowns on 193 carries. This season Davila has boosted his yards per carry average from 7.8 to 10.6 as his touches have also increased and he has topped 100 rushing yards in all nine of Poteet’s games to this point. He has also scored at least two touchdowns on the ground in each of the Aggies’ games this year and topped 200 rushing yards in every one of Poteet’s five consecutive wins. Davila has proven to be a productive pass catcher with 39 career receptions for 759 yards and six receiving scores. He became the first player in Texas high school football to eclipse the 2,000-yard mark on the ground this season with a 332-yard performance in a 35-21 win over Marion in Week 9. 

4. DeAnthony Gatson, Newton (3A DII)

Gatson checks in as the top-ranked running back from East Texas on this list now in his fourth year as a varsity letterman at Newton. After receiving limited action during Newton’s 15-0 run to the 3A DII state championship as a freshman, Gatson has started for the Eagles as their featured back for three years and is on track to crack the 1,000-yard mark on the ground for the third straight season. He scored 29 rushing touchdowns during his sophomore year to win District 12-3A’s Offensive Newcomer of the Year award and 30 rushing TDs as a junior to claim the district’s MVP honors. Gatson first flashed his elusiveness and open-field speed as a sophomore when he ran 189 times for 1,862 yards and topped 100 rushing yards in 10 of the Eagles’ 12 games during a run to the regional semifinals. His encore performance as a junior included a career-high 1,974 yards on the ground and a 1.9-yard boost to his yards per carry average (12.3). He has also added 122 receiving yards and two touchdown catches on nine career receptions. Gatson has been limited to five games so far this year, but he has been as productive as ever, eclipsing the 100-yard rushing mark four times already. He has rushed for 914 yards and nine scores on 118 carries thus far as a senior with a multi-game postseason run likely still to come. He has amassed 4,984 total yards and 73 total TDs on 487 touches throughout 31 career games. Gatson, a three-star RB prospect, is considered one of the top 65 Class of 2022 running back recruits nationally and one of the top 105 seniors throughout Texas high school football by 247 Sports. Gatson took official visits to Colorado, Texas and USC in June and committed to the Trojans shortly after his recruiting trip to Los Angeles, but decommitted from Southern California in late September to reopen his recruitment. He previously revealed a list of his top five schools that included the Buffaloes, Longhorns and Trojans as well as Iowa State and Minnesota in late May. Gatson has since been extended offers by Missouri and Toledo in late September as well as Southern in late May to push his DI offer total to two dozen with programs like Michigan, Oklahoma State, South Carolina and TCU among the group of schools pursuing his talents on the recruiting trail. 

5. Richard Reese, Bellville (4A DII)

Reese has been giving opposing defenses throughout Southeast Texas nightmares for years as a staple in Bellville’s backfield. He gained his first varsity experience after rushing for 548 yards and four touchdowns on 54 carries in eight games during a run to the Region III semifinals in the 4A DII playoffs. Reese has served as the Brahmas’ bell-cow back since his sophomore year when he ascended into the team’s starting running back role. He nearly cracked the 2,000-yard mark on the ground during his debut season as the team’s starting back, running for 1,996 yards and 20 touchdowns on 262 carries in 12 games to lead Bellville in each category en route to a second straight trip to the regional semifinals in the postseason. He followed that up with another strong season on the ground as a junior by tallying 1,873 yards and a career-high 26 rushing TDs on 192 carries in 10 contests to capture District 12-4A DII MVP honors for the second season in a row and a TSWA second team all-state selection in 2020. He has also accumulated 11 career catches for 265 yards and four receiving touchdowns and added 531 total yards on 38 kick and punt returns in 39 games during his four-year career. Those big back-to-back years garnered Reese lots of looks from several DI programs. Houston Baptist extended his first official offer in late March, and the Huskies were quickly followed by Texas State in mid-April and Baylor in mid-May. Reese committed to the Bears three days after receiving his first Big 12 offer and was later offered by Ole Miss, SMU and UTSA, but reaffirmed his commitment to Baylor following an official campus visit in mid-June. He’s on pace to break all his previous career highs during a senior campaign in which he’s been borderline unstoppable. Reese has scored multiple rushing touchdowns and run for more than 100 yards in all eight of the Brahmas’ games in 2021 so far, extending his streak of 100-yard rushing performances to 30 consecutive games stretching back to August 2019. He has rushed for 1,405 yards and 22 touchdowns on 119 carries while boasting a new career high in yards per carry (11.8) and surpassing 100 rushing yards three times while being limited to single digit touches. His 5,822 career rushing yards and 76 total TDs have made Reese one of the most dependable backs in 4A DII and one of the state’s most dangerous offensive playmakers.

6. Marc Ramirez, Wellington (2A DII)

Ramirez becomes the first 2A running back to make an appearance on this list as one of the Panhandle’s most prolific rushers. He was an invaluable two-way star for Wellington last year as a junior running back and linebacker. Ramirez earned a TSWA first team all-state nod after leading the Skyrockets with 2,542 yards and 30 touchdowns on the ground offensively and added 133 tackles defensively during a 14-1 season that ended in the state semifinals. He originally burst onto the Texas high school football scene as a sophomore in 2019, when he rushed for 1,054 yards and 15 TDs on 127 carries in 13 games during Wellington’s run to the Region 1 championship game in the 2A DII playoffs. Ramirez has gotten off to another red-hot start for the Skyrockets and recorded 1,131 yards and 16 rushing scores on 127 carries in seven appearances so far this fall. He has now tallied 4,838 total yards and 63 total touchdowns throughout 37 games during his four-year career at Wellington. Ramirez has also topped 100 yards on the ground in six straight games highlighted by a 147-yard, three-touchdown Week 8 performance on four carries and a 293-yard, five-score Week 9 showing on 21 carries. Another big night in Wellington’s regular-season finale on the road against Wheeler could push to become the only active 2A running back with more than 5,000 career total yards offensively.

7. Braden Courtney, Timpson (2A DI)

Courtney claims the top spot among all running backs in Class 2A Division I and becomes the second East Texas standout RB to appear on this list. The Bears’ senior running back has been one of the toughest runners to stop in Texas high school football for the better part of two seasons now. Courtney exploded for 2,217 yards and 38 rushing touchdowns as a junior to help Timpson improve from five wins in 2019 to a 14-1 record and trip to the 2A DI state championship game last season and earned TSWA second team all-state recognition. He’s been equally effective on the ground this season as a senior by rushing for 633 yards and 13 TDs on 73 carries in the Bears’ first six games to propel the team to a perfect start to the regular season. He has added an element to his game as a receiver this year too and hauled in six catches for 116 yards and a receiving touchdown. Courtney has also chipped in with significant contributions for Timpson as both an outside linebacker defensively and a kick/punt returner on special teams during his career. He should be poised to pile on statistically with the Bears poised to launch another deep postseason run in the 2A DI playoffs.

8. Ish Harris, Pilot Point (3A DI)

Harris, a multi-sport standout in basketball and track as well as football, has been a vital varsity contributor on both sides of the ball since his freshman year. He’s played at multiple positions defensively, but settled into a running back role that has suited him well since embracing it as a sophomore. Harris notched 45 yards and a rushing touchdown on six carries in two games as a freshman, and elevated his game and took on more responsibilities offensively the following season. He ran for 372 yards and a pair of rushing TDs on 50 carries in seven games, but the 6-foot-4 back managed to take his game up another level as a junior. Harris rushed 226 times for 1,788 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground, all new career highs, and contributed 44 tackles and five interceptions to capture District 4-3A DI’s MVP award during a 10-4 campaign for the Bearcats that included a Region I championship game appearance in the 3A DI playoffs. His senior season has already featured 681 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground on 100 carries through seven appearances this fall. He has also shown off his skills as a pass-catching back this year with 13 receptions for 145 yards and a touchdown through the air. Harris, a four-star prospect, is regarded by 247 Sports as one of the top 50 seniors in Texas high school football this year and a top 45 Class of 2022 RB recruit nationally. He has tallied 3,087 total yards and 35 total TDs on 399 career touches since his freshman year to make himself a popular back on the recruiting trail with proven production as a rusher. Harris committed to Texas A&M in late June after earning 18 DI offers and visiting College Station three times since receiving his offer from the Aggies in January. He named a top five in early May that included the A&M along with Miami, Michigan, Oklahoma and Texas, and also took two recruiting trips to Norman before committing

9. Tanner Bean, Wortham (2A DII)

Bean, the first junior to check in on this list, has been one of the top backs in 2A throughout the past three years at Wortham, including the last two as the team’s starting running back. The Bulldogs’ bruising back hit 3,000 career rushing yards in his squad’s 63-0 win over Frost during Week 8. Bean has also tallied 36 rushing TDs and 7.6 yards per rush on 393 carries throughout his 27-game varsity career. He made appearances in every game as a freshman and ran for 408 yards and four touchdowns on 83 carries on Wortham’s bi-district qualifying playoff squad in 2019. He really began to make a name for himself throughout Class 2A and North Central Texas last season, though, in his first year as the team’s featured back. Bean took the opportunity and ran with it, rushing 192 times for 1,514 yards and 15 touchdowns while helping power the Bulldogs back to the postseason. He was incredibly productive and efficient on the ground throughout his sophomore campaign by surpassing 100 rushing yards in six of Wortham’s nine games. Perhaps more impressively, however, were Bean’s three performances last year that featured both 256 yards or more and three or more scores on the ground against Bremond, Frost and Itasca. Bean also saw significant time last season as both a quarterback and wideout offensively. He has thrown for 341 yards, four interceptions and two touchdowns on 14-of-50 passing and hauled in 13 catches for 240 yards and three receiving TDs throughout his three-year career. Bean has also chipped in as a reliable and versatile playmaker defensively with 122 tackles, 19 pass breakups, seven TFLs, four interceptions, three forced fumbles and three recovered fumbles through 27 career contests. He’s enjoyed a sensational start to his junior season on the offensive side of the ball too this fall. Bean has rushed 118 times for 1,078 yards and 17 touchdowns in seven games for the Bulldogs so far this year. He’s sporting a new career high in yards per carry (9.1), has scored three rushing touchdowns or more four times and has exceed the 100-yard mark on the ground in six of the seven games he has appeared in for Wortham, including a 128-yard, three-touchdown showing on six carries against Frost during Week 8. If he can stay healthy for the remainder of the regular season, Bean could set new career highs in rushing yards and touchdowns and help the Bulldogs break through the bi-district round of the 2A DII playoffs. 

10. Ezekiel Saldana, Pecos (4A DII)

Saldana earns the final spot on this list of the top sub-5A running backs throughout Texas high school football this year. He’s also the third Class 4A back to make an appearance in our positional rankings and the top-ranked West Texas RB. Saldana earned his first significant varsity playing last season as a junior, but provided an immediate boost to Pecos’ rushing attack. He tallied 653 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground off 44 carries after appearing in five of the team’s nine games during the 2020 campaign. Despite only playing in about half of potential games during his debut season, the Eagles’ explosive running back started turning heads with a few exceptional performances and eye-popping numbers. Saldana never received more than 13 carries per contest, but cracked the 145-yard mark as a rusher in three of five games and also scored multiple touchdowns on three separate occasions. He also ran for an astonishing 14.8 yards per carry for the entire season and averaged a first down per touch in all but one game as a junior. Saldana has also chipped in as a free safety defensively with 13 career tackles and as a valuable special teams weapon with 119 total yards on 11 kick and punt returns. With a full season to display his speed and athleticism as the team’s workhorse running back, Saldana has shown how prolific of a rusher he can be. He has run 194 times for 1,803 yards and 20 rushing TDs, all three new career highs, so far this year to help lead Pecos to a 4-4 overall record and to the precipice of clinching a postseason berth. He has eclipsed 100 rushing yards in seven of his team’s first eight games this fall, and topped 260 yards on the ground in four of those contests. Saldana, who has also added two catches for 31 yards and a receiving touchdown this year, has had six multi-score games on the ground, including five games with three or more rushing TDs. Saldana began his senior year with three consecutive games of 200+ rushing yards and three or more rushing touchdowns and now enters the regular-season’s home stretch riding a three-game streak of at least 260 yards and one touchdown on the ground per contest, as Pecos attempts to secure a return trip to the 4A DII playoffs.

Other 1A-4A/Private School Running Backs Receiving Consideration:

Tre Wisner, Waco Conally; Rylan Galvan, Sinton; Colton Deckard, Muenster; Raymond Hernandez, Anthony; Konlyn Anderson, Brownwood; Jose Guajardo, El Paso Riverside; Jadonavan Williams, Quinlan Ford; A’marion Peterson, Wichita Falls Hirschi; DJ Brown, Leonard; Deiontray Hill, Omaha Pewitt; Zane Obregon, Splendora; Jayden Jones, Yoakum; Tristan Gray, Mineral Wells; Kaiden Roden, Quinlan Ford; Cadarian Wiley, Grapeland; Bryson Kerby, Coahama; Bo Baker, Bells; Johntre Davis, El Campo; Jaiden Barr, Italy; Jaray Bledsoe, Bremond; Jkoby Williams; Beckville; Jordan Woodard, Columbia West Columbia; Shaun Easterling, Lovelady; Paul Woodard, Freeport Brazosport; Johnny Robinson, Houston Furr; Ethan Greenwood, Corpus Christi Miller; Cole Thomas, Falls City; Klyderion Campbell, Mart; Andrew Paul, Dallas Parish Episocal; Eli Smith, Houston Second Baptist;Malik Stotts, Joaquin; Devrin Brown, Krum; Dawson Pendergrass, Mineola; Jayden Bridgewater, Alvarado; Kevin Pierce, Troup; William Goodnight, Elysian Fields; Marquis Dodd, Silsbee; Josh Fava, Christoval; Jesse Leija, Fredericksburg; Epi Hinojosa, Corpus Christi Calallen; Enrique Hernandez, Hidalgo; Miguel Delgado, Fabens; Damien Brown, Leonard.

Andrew McCulloch

Andrew McCulloch, SBLive

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