Every once in a while, I’ll make a check through various websites just to see what fans are saying and to try and get a feel for what to put in these columns.
At any rate, looking through the football forum, there was a post called “Best Missouri HS Running Backs.”
Checking through, the posters have given a pretty darned good list of some of the state’s best. Through my career of working here and helping with the now defunct Missouri Football magazine (published by my college newspaper adviser, Dr. Roy Keller), I recognize a lot of the names on the list.
One of those is the Archie Whirlwind, the legendary Brad Hocker himself. Hocker may have been one of the greatest Missouri high school running backs ever and tales of his performances are still epics in the western part of the state. Hocker went on to play tight end in college.
As far as the best running backs I’ve ever seen in person during my 28 seasons covering football here, there are a few who stand out at the top.
Brock Olivo, currently the special teams head coach for the Denver Broncos, was the absolute best. During Borgia’s 1993 run to the Class 3A state title, Olivo was unstoppable. Any time he touched the ball, he was a threat to go the distance. He was one of the best cutback runners I’ve seen at any level and returned kicks with the best as well. Teams stacking the box to try and stop Olivo opened the passing game up for Kent Skornia and a talented group of receivers.
Olivo’s legend grew at the University of Missouri, where he helped to turn around that program. His No. 27 is retired there (and he SHOULD be in the school’s athletic hall of fame, it’s a travesty that he isn’t). He spent four seasons in the NFL and then went to Italy to coach. That year, he ended up leading the Italian Golden League in rushing after coming out of retirement to play as well for the Ostia Marines.
Next on my list would be Jamie Dowler of the Washington Blue Jays. Like Olivo, Dowler could read a broken defense and cut back with authority. Dowler was a big reason the Blue Jays made it to the dome in 2001 to play for the Class 4 state title.
Jared Rennick, currently wrestling at Drury, was a powerful runner and a load to bring down. I can remember him carrying three or four tacklers on his back, in the mud, and still picking up yardage.
Chad Shockley of St. James fit in the category as well, although he was more of a receiver in college at Missouri-Rolla (now S&T). Shockley was an outstanding all-around player and played a huge role in St. James’ success during his time with the Tigers.
JR Witthaus of Hermann was a load to bring down. His rushing record finally was broken last year by Garrett Leimkuehler, another strong running back.
Owensville had Beau Viehmann, who was an outstanding back in his day.
I can remember Craig Vonder Haar covering the Washington-Timberland games back in the days of Montee Ball (before he became Mon-tay). Ball was one of the most feared running backs through college and most of us felt he would be a solid NFL back.
Ernest Blackwell of Eureka, who played at Mizzou with Olivo, was another top running back during his high school days. I remember his brother, Emmett Staples, a bit more vividly as Borgia played at Eureka during Staples’ senior year. He was tough as nails.
Adam Schwendt of Ste. Genevieve once ran through a bench during a playoff game at Borgia. He was tough as nails and had an excellent group of blockers to open holes.
Hillsboro’s Greg Cain was one of the best running backs in his day back in the early 1990s. I still can remember him somehow finding excellent traction against Union during a 1991 playoff game.
Of the current group, Matt Strong of Pacific has the same big-play ability to go to the end zone any time he touches the ball. Listed as a receiver, Strong gets a good number of carries. He can read blocks and knows when to go against the flow. Strong’s biggest problem has been teammates committing penalties.
Going back to my playing days, one of the best I can remember was Van-Far’s Bryan Davis. He was one of the halfbacks in the vaunted Van-Far wishbone and he ran rampant over our Missouri Military Academy teams. He went on to play fullback at Southeast Missouri State.
I figure this is better than writing about that mess known as the NFL. The game still is good at the grassroots level. Maybe that’s where we need to be supporting it the most.
There are many other outstanding backs in the last 25-30 years. I’m sure I’m forgetting some good ones. Who are the best running backs you’ve seen play (and what made them so good)? Drop me an email at email@example.com and maybe you’ll be included in an upcoming article.