By CONOR NICHOLL & CHET KUPLEN
Sports in Kansas continues its positional breakdown. Next up: Running backs, a group headlined by the Wichita area. All statistical rankings from Conor Nicholl, Sports In Kansas, along with databases at KPreps, Kansas Pregame and MaxPreps.
This list is not ranked or in any specific order.
Dylan Edwards, Derby
Derby senior Dylan Edwards and Maize quarterback Avery Johnson are longtime good friends and the state’s most well-known players. Edwards is the No. 4 Kansas recruit, Johnson No. 1, per 24/7 Sports. Both have committed to Kansas State. Edwards was SIK’s 6A Offensive Player of the Year, Johnson collected the honor in 5A. Derby won three straight 6A state titles before the title game loss to Blue Valley Northwest last season. Edwards produced more than 3,000 all-purpose yards in 2021 and was the state’s leading rusher with 2,603 yards and 38 rushing scores. Edwards has an opportunity to finish as statistically one of the top-5 rushers in Kansas annals. He cleared 1,800 yards as a sophomore. Derby finished 11-1 and easily paced 6A with 52.2 points a game. State champion Blue Valley Northwest was second with 43.8 points a game. Derby was second in Kansas among 11-man teams in scoring offense, trailing only three-time 3A champion Andale (53.4). Derek Hubbard is also very good option if Derby needs to give the ball to someone else.
Omari Elias, Kapaun Mt. Carmel
KMC junior Omari Elias was arguably the state’s biggest breakout player in 2021. Elias helped the Crusaders reach the 5A state semifinals before a last-second loss to Maize. KMC has enjoyed a tremendous rise since Weston Schartz took over as coach two years ago. Elias, an SIK 5A all-state pick as a sophomore, finished second among Kansas 11-man players with 2,140 rushing yards. He easily led the state with 315 rushes – 107 more than Edwards. KMC has not made the state title game since a 1987 championship. The Crusaders have not defeated Holy War rival Bishop Carroll since 1999, per Kansas Football History. KMC and Bishop Carroll are expected to play at Wichita Wind Surge’s Riverfront Stadium this year. Kapaun enters 2022 as one of the state’s most intriguing teams behind QB Dylan Hamilton, Elias and 6-foot-6 WR Will Anciuax, a Kansas State commit. Last year’s 10-2 record marked the program’s most wins since a 10-2 record in 2013. KMC was second in 5A with 39.8 points per game.
John Randle Jr., Wichita Heights
Wichita Heights’ John Randle Jr. has been a known quantity in Kansas because of his family lineage and his talent that he first showed as a freshman. He is ranked No. 2 among Kansas recruits. Randle is the only one of the top-seven and one of two in the top-12 Kansas recruits that has not committed. The 6-foot, 180-pound Randle has 25-plus offers from Arizona State, Arkansas, Oregon, Penn State, TCU and Utah. Wichita Heights, like KMC, is a highly compelling team this season and is one that could make a big improvement. Heights moves to 6A after a 5-4 season that yielded 37.4 points a game, No. 5 in 5A.
Sage Huffman, Blue Valley West
Huffman enjoyed a huge breakout sophomore season with 277 carries for 1,410 yards and 13 scores. Huffman helped BVW to a 7-5 season and 6A state semifinalist in the Eastern Kansas League, the state’s best conference. BVW delivered 25.8 points a game, No. 15 out of 32 6A teams. He was an SIK all-state pick in 6A along with Non-Senior honors.
L.J. Phillips/Cencere Thompson, Wichita Northwest
Wichita Northwest has perennially led Kansas 11-man teams in rushing and scoring. That occurred again last season. Phillips delivered 1,982 rushing yards and 14.8 yards per carry. He ranked third in Kansas in rushing yards. Thompson finished with 129 rushes for 1,180 yards and 12 scores. Northwest by far paced 5A with 52 points a game.
Grant Stubblefield, Blue Valley Northwest
Grant Stubblefield will be one of Kansas’ most decorated athletes. He was Top 5 all classes in basketball and first team all-state football. He delivered 250 carries for 1,584 yards and 24 scores. BVNW enjoyed its huge improvement and won the 6A state title. He was also the 6A basketball player of the year from SIK and the EKL basketball player of the year. He also has an Ivy league offer from Columbia.
Malik O’Atis, SM Northwest
O’Atis is one of the most underrated players in the state and should expect a huge year for SMNW. 5-10 165 versatile back can do a lot catching the ball and running the ball. He was one of the best in the SFL last season and should expect a monster senior season. SMNW has seen great QB play in recent memory with Shrine Bowl MVP Blake Reeder who played the spot last season after converting from TE and All-State QB Ty Black for several years prior. He was a first team all-state pick last season.
Noah Khokhar, Hutchinson
Khokhar is back for his senior season after earning all-league first team honors in the AVCTL-I last season with a loaded cast of players (Edwards – Derby, Cantu – Maize South). Daeshaun Carter also on this list was on the second team. The league and Wichita area is loaded at the position for 2022.
Kenyon McMillan, Salina Central
McMillan rushed for 11.7 yards per carry last season on his way to earning all-state honorable mention in 5A. He was also a first team All-AVTCL II pick last season for the Mustangs.
Jace Thomas, Scott City/Mason Hernandez, Goodland
This league is always so talented and underrated. Some of the toughest players in the state have came from the schools that make up the GWAC over the years. Thomas (6’1” 185) had a big junior campaign in which he earned all-league honors in the GWAC as a junior for Scott City while Hernandez (5’11” 185) earned second team all league and is expected to have a big season for the Cowboys.
Jaden Mitchell/Carson Phelps, Wichita Collegiate (ATH)
Mitchell is a versatile player that figures in more as an athlete than running back as he doubles as a receiver but ran a 10.63 (wind aided) FAT at the state track meet to capture the 3A boys 100 meter dash. He can play both receiver and running back if needed. The league was loaded full of skill players last year. Phelps is also a versatile player that features 50.19 speed in the 400 and has picked up multiple offers in the off-season at several prestigious academic institutions. This gives QB Wesley Fair (KSU commit) options in the backfield or in the passing game for HC Troy Black. You should see an uptick in production from Mitchell and Phelps with the graduation of 2022 Shrine Bowl selection Ashtun Villagomez.
Jaytin Gumm, McPherson
McPherson senior Jaytin Gumm has delivered back-to-back highly productive seasons. Gumm delivered 180 carries for 1,329 yards and 13 scores as a sophomore. In eight games last season, Gumm finished with 111 carries for 953 yards and 15 scores. He has cleared 100 yards in 12 of 19 career games. McPherson delivered 33.4 points a game, eighth-best in 4A.
Cody Parthemer/Riley Marx, Andale
Parthemer was a first team all-state selection last season in 3A for the state champion Indians. They bring back a stable of players on both sides that feature several players that could be all-state. Riley Marx is also one of the top defenders and multiple sport athletes in the state and could see a major year on the offensive side of the ball as well. Marx is likely the most explosive player in Kansas and is a major recruiting sleeper. Dylan Schmidt has something special going in Andale and the running game is always dominant for the Indians.
Brayden Kunz, Conway Springs
Conway Springs running back Brayden Kunz delivered 128 rushes for 1,120 yards and 18 rushing scores. He ranked in the top-30 among 11-man running backs. CS delivered an 8-3 record and was fourth in 1A with 38.7 points a game.
Jesse Greenly, Atchison
Atchison’s Jesse Greenly helped them enjoy a nice improvement under HC Jim Smith. Greenly was eighth among Kansas 11-man running backs with 1,712 rushing yards, along with 27 rushing scores. He has also recently picked up multiple offers including Butler CC.
Sean Carroll, St. Thomas Aquinas
Sean Carroll has emerged as the next great back for St. Thomas Aquinas coach Randy Dreiling. Carroll rushed 298 times for 1,608 yards and 23 scores. Aquinas finished 6-5 and was No. 13 out of 32 5A squads with 32 points a contest. The Carrolls have enjoyed great success at Aquinas. Earlier in July, Sean’s younger brother, Stephen, squatted 402 pounds, which set a Kansas state record for a 14-year-old.
Nash Money, Wellsville
Wellsville enjoyed a huge improvement last season and is a definite 2A contender. Money has emerged as one of Kansas’ top football players, especially from 4A on down. Money finished with 192 carries for 1,561 yards and 30 rushing TDs, earning SIK all-state honors in 2A. He finished No. 12 in Kansas among 11-man running backs. Wellsville enjoyed a 10-1 season. Wellsville was fourth in 2A in scoring offense (42.4) and second in 2A scoring defense (8.8).
Daeshaun Carter, Maize
Carter has great size at 5’11” and 190 pounds. He is a great compliment to Avery Johnson in the backfield and can take pressure off Johnson with his rushing ability. Maize is quite loaded on paper with Johnson, Carter, Stephens, Cohoon at skill spots plus some experience on the offensive line. Look for another big year for the Eagles in 5A. Carter quietly had 1,200 yards last season with 18 touchdowns and seven yards per carry. While many other Wichita RBs are getting the much deserved headlines and Carter may be in the shadow of other team stars, we feel he is one of the best backs in 5A.
Benson Berndt, Beloit
Beloit senior Benson Berndt has delivered back-to-back huge seasons. The Trojans have reached the 2A state semifinals and the 2A state championship game. Beloit finished 9-4 and ranked No. 16 out of 48 2A schools with 28.3 points a contest. Berndt rushed for 1,832 yards and 25 TDs last season. He has over 3100 yards plus 35 TD in his career.
Mario Menghini, Frontenac
Frontenac’s Mario Menghini delivered a solid sophomore season with 29 catches for 604 yards and five touchdowns. He was the Raiders’ leading receiver. Menghini delivered a big season last fall and helped Frontenac to a 3A state runner-up finish to Andale. He ran for more than 900 yards. In 2020, Frontenac rushed for 149 yards a game, 5.2 yards per play and 20.8 points a game, per SIK research and Hudl statistics. Last season, Menghini helped Frontenac deliver 221 rushing yards a contest, 5.7 yards per play and 30.6 points a contest entering the state game. He delivered 235 yards of total offense in a state semifinal win against Holton, and had 20 rushes for 195 yards versus Rock Creek. He has a Benedictine football offer. Menghini is 6-2, 192 with a 4.61 in the 40-yard dash. He’s got a shot to be all-state in three sports this season, after earning baseball all-state honors from SIK last season and all-state in football from SIK, he was also all-state honorable mention in basketball.
Tre Richardson/Tyrell Reed, Highland Park
Great duo in the Topeka area. Richardson is more of an athlete but also gets the nod as a running back because he is so versatile. He had 674 rushing last season to go along with 532 receiving with another 450 yards on kickoff returns to go along with 4.40 speed. Reed is a speedster with 4.36 HH speed and 4.48 laser. He has great size at 5’10” 188 pounds with a 3.3 GPA. Last season he had 884 yards on 73 carries. Both will be two of the best playmakers in Topeka.
A school that has produced so many all-state running backs you forget some of those greats. A full stable of backs return at North in Aiden Bruce, T.J Porter and Jeremiah Rhoades that could emerge as names to watch this season.
Mill Valley always has solid play at the position, and we expect Tristan Baker and speedster Sidney Lockhart to step up big at the position this year. Hayden Jay returns at quarterback and this should provide him with a quality backfield for the most consistent power in 5A.
Malik Bah, Hays High
Hays High graduated Top 11 players Jaren Kanak and Gavin Meyers, who signed with Oklahoma and Kansas State, respectively. Kanak, in his one season at quarterback, set multiple Hays High records, including single season rushing. The 5-foot-9, 180-pound Bah is expected to be the next HHS backfield standout. Athletic senior QB Kyreese Groen will take over under center, though likely projects more as a receiver in college. Groen had 27 carries for 211 yards and a TD, along with 10 catches for 201 yards and four scores. Bah, a junior, has Division I potential as a college running back after 83 carries for 634 yards and seven scores. Bah helped HHS to its best season since the mid-90s and delivered 38.9 points a game, third-best in 5A.
Trey Sommer, Humboldt
Trey Sommer had 168 carries for 1,097 yards and 14 scores for the Cubs. Humboldt finished 6-4 and was tenth out of 48 2A squads with 31.2 points a game. He has great size at 6’1” and 195 pounds, also a standout in baseball.
Antonio Harrison, KC Sumner
Antonio Harrison is one of the top returnees from the KCAL along with Greenly of Atchison after 134 carries for 1,093 yards and 13 scores.
T.J. Jones, Junction City
Jones is back after earning all-league Centennial League honors in 2021 as a junior. He was the lone junior named to the list and returns with a very talented cast of players from the area that also features Ma’Kentis Adams of Washburn Rural and Tre Richardson/Tyrell Reed of Highland Park.
The Redmen always have some of the best ball carriers. They have a cast of players in Bentley Montgomery, Luke Franklin and Jake Sassee that such earn the group a nod on this list.
Garyson Booth/Jayden Fletcher/Jace Boswell, Holton – Big 7
Holton is stacked across multiple positions, and Booth is a standout runner. He delivered 78 carries for 961 yards and 12 scores. Fletcher finished with 123 carries for 845 yards and 12 scores. Boswell is one of the best defenders in the state and should expect a huge year on offense as well. Plus, Holton outstanding QB/K Matt Lierz also returns after 719 rushing yards. Holton went 11-1 and was fifth in 3A with 38.3 points a game. The league also returns Cooper Hajek of Nemaha Central and Josh Herrmann of Sabetha who are others to watch this season.
Ty Leedy, Chanute
Ty Leedy, a first team 4A all-stater from Sports in Kansas, is part of a dynamic Chanute group that is one of the most intriguing teams for all classes. An explosive player, Leedy finished with 85 carries for 731 yards and 17 scores. Chanute ranked second in 4A with 38.5 points a game. He has also been an individual state champion in wrestling during his career and was the SEK League Player of the Year in football last season. Chanute has quite the cast of players coming back in 4A, the question is can they get past Aquinas, Miege or St. James on the loaded 4A East?
Eight-Man top rushers were dominated by running/dual threat quarterbacks. Per MaxPreps, the top-10 returning eight-man rushers included Caldwell’s (now South Sumner) Keiondre Smith, Dighton’s Max Neeley, Macksville’s Ryan Kuckelman, Thunder Ridge’s Dylan Bice, Axtell’s Isaac Detweiler, Burlingame’s Colby Middleton and Onaga’s Zac Fisher. Mitch Budke (QB,RB,ATH) is right there with this below even though really a QB as one of the top returnees in the state for a Chase County squad that could make some serious noise, he’s also one of the best defenders in 8M-I. Brandon Schmelzle of Axtell is another player that isn’t necessarily a running back but we expect some big rushing numbers as he can play either WR or RB.
Here are the top returning rushers that are non-quarterbacks.
Bryson Turner, Madison
Turner is one of the best players for all classes. Turner finished with 90 carries for 1,523 yards and 29 rushing scores. That included 29 carries for 365 yards and eight scores in a 66-50 win against Chase County. He caught 27 passes for 674 yards and 14 scores. Turner intercepted four passes and returned three for scores. He is a multiple time state champion in track and field.
Holden Barker, Colony-Crest
Colony-Crest’s Holden Barker paced Kansas eight-man in rushing yards with 214 attempts for 2,071 yards with 36 rushing scores in nine games. Barker had a long of 79 yards, which means he scored a touchdown from the opponents’ one-yard line. Barker was also a key baseball player who helped Crest beat Pittsburg-Colgan at the state tournament and earn a 2-1A final four showing for the best finish in school history.
Carson Werth, Victoria
Victoria’s Carson Werth is one of Kansas’ most dynamic players and will play a key role in all three phases: RB, defense and punter/kicker/returner. Victoria had four key returners: Werth, TE/DE Seth Schwien, QB Thaddeus Wohler and OL Tanis Brungardt, though Brungardt is now expected not to play this year. Victoria finished 10-2 and is a back-to-back final four squad.
He delivered 117 carries for 1,108 rushing yards and 16 scores. Werth finished with 1,581 all-purpose yards, including 327 as a kick returner. Plus, Werth finished with 81 tackles and seven sacks. Werth finished with six touchbacks. He also delivered 36.4 yards per punt. He also made five of six extra points. Werth has returned three kicks for touchdowns.
Werth has a very likely chance to finish his career with more than: 2,000 rushing yards, 1,200 return yards, 500 receiving yards and 250 tackles.
Eli Lang, Minneola (ATH)
Eli Lang also serves as Minneola’s quarterback in its run-heavy offense. He delivered 177 carries for 1,561 yards with 20 rushing scores in eight games for his sophomore season. Lang had 137 rushes for 917 yards with 17 TDs. In two seasons as a passer, Lang has 95 of 184 passing for 1,352 yards with 12 scores against nine interceptions.
James Kriegh, WaKeeney-Trego
WaKeeney-Trego’s James Kriegh has showcased highly impressive speed in back-to-back seasons. Kriegh and QB Owen Day form one of eight-man’s top backfields. Kriegh had 165 carries for 1,449 yards and 24 rushing scores. He was top-12 in Kansas in rushing yards among eight-man players.
Braxton Lafferty, Little River
Little River running back Braxton Lafferty is an all-around player for the Redskins, which is Eight-Man, Division I state champion and state runner-up in the last two seasons. Lafferty was banged up in the state title loss to Meade. LR has never lost a home game in the three years of the Kevin Ayers era. LR will likely be preseason top-5 again in Division I. The Redskins graduate its three all-state linemen, though return all of its skill players. Lafferty has 160 carries for 1,435 yards and 25 rushing scores.
Creyo Koop, West Elk
Creyo Koop enjoyed a huge freshman season for West Elk and is expected to be one of eight-man’s top players this fall. Koop, whose dad and older sister enjoyed great success at WE, had 155 carries for 1,272 yards and 24 rushing scores. Koop was also the 3-2-1A state runner-up in wrestling. We feel like a monster season is coming for the standout sophomore.
Kaleb Atkins, Hill City
Hill City’s Kaleb Atkins, a junior captain last season, emerged as a significant threat for Hill City’s first district championship in school history and a state semifinal berth. Atkins had a great dual threat season and caught the game-winning TD pass against WaKeeney-Trego in a road win that decided the district title. Atkins finished with 110 carries for 834 yards. HC is 10-2 and ranked sixth in Division I with 51.8 points a game. Hill City coach Travis Desbien called the 5-foot-8, 138-pound Atkins “Mighty Mouse” for his ability to elude and break tackles.
Landen McPhail, Ashland
McPhail delivered KPreps six-man all-state honorable mention honors. Six-man has a void with a feature back after Natoma running back Kayden Martinez, the 6-Man Offensive MVP, graduated. McPhail delivered 91 carries for 700 yards and 15 rushing scores, all team-highs. Ashland rushed for 203 yards and 6.2 yards per rush. He also paced McPhail with 24 catches for 324 yards and caught four receiving scores. Ashland finished third in six-man with 53.8 points per game and will likely open the preseason top-5 in the first season of KSHSAA six-man football. Logan McCarty of Cheylin is a QB that could also be listed as a RB and is expected to be one of the top players in the state for 6-Man.
Other top running backs 8-Man:
St. Francis’ Preston Witzel (779 rushing), Central Burden’s Bradan Balman (719), Wallace County’s Cade Johnson (580), Thunder Ridge’s Dalton Bice and Jace Randall (622 and 426), Canton-Galva’s Ryder Norstrom (575), Stafford’s Dylan Gantz (574)
More top running backs to watch from all-classes:
Zack Keonsengphet – Garden City, Wyatt Bahm – Ark City, Julien Myers – Mulvane, Treden Buckman – Uniontown, Karsten McKee – Pleasanton, Justice Autry – Smoky Valley, Peyton Parks – Bonner Springs, Draven Pipkin – Spring Hill, J.C. Cummings – Hayden, Austin Clark – Chaparral, Carter Helm – Kingman, Caleb Sanger – Hutch Trinity, Kyle Werner – Plainville, Jalen Massey – Lyndon, Jake Wiens – Goessel, Cal Kohlmeier – Chase County, Tyler Korbe – Wallace County, Malachi Rogers – Wellington, Nik Pai – Andover, Octavius Lyles – Eudora, Evan Cortez – Ulysses, Ma’Kenttis Adams – Washburn Rural, Zach Frank – Wabaunsee, Rayvelle Leak – Wichita East, Cooper Simmons – Colgan, J.C. Heim – Washburn Rural, Xavier Alexander – Topeka West, Dawson Mooney – Galena, Ethan Davidson – Girard, Max Younie – Pratt, Cauy Scripsick – Medicine Lodge, Grant Kelley – Aquinas, Jeremiah Penney – Aquinas, Wallace William – BV North, Jack Forge – Aquinas, Colton Brusven – Tonganoxie, Zion Woodin – Ottawa, Kanye Brown – Wichita SE, Kobey Figures – Wichita West, Jace Gosch – Norwich, Luke McGuire – Cunningham, Corey Reese – Lebo, Garrett Urban – Norton, Silas Jones – Norton, Trenton Barker – Rossville, Jaydon Winans – Rock Creek, Collin Dahl – Republic County, Jack Lauer – Marysville, Cody Long – Burlington, Colton Warthen – SFT, Seth Carrow – Osawatomie, Camdon Julian – Independence, Eric Butler – Olathe Northwest, Noah Gunion – SM West, Max Keller – Olathe Northwest, Tyrone Butler – Lansing, Jerry Arteaga – Garden City, Jekai Harris – Basehor Linwood, Braylen Hoover – Eudora, Lafayette Washington – Heights, Jahmarion Washington – Parsons, Derek Hubbard – Deby, Amarion Green – De Soto, Cannon McCormack – Circle, Charlie Chrisman – Kapaun, Artavistus Ware – Free State, Wade Morgan – Douglass, Brayden Heck – Lawrence, Nolan Bevan – Valley Center, Parker Smith – BVSW, Gianni Rizzi – Aquinas, Cody Miller – Great Bend, Carter Long – Clay Center, Aaron Tunstall – Coffeyville, Colter Oldham – Lakin, Ian Kresin – Lakeside Downs, Ryder Norstrom – Canton Galva