Running backs stand out early on

The football is still very early.

Much can — and will — change as the season progresses.

But after one week (two weeks for two local teams), one thing is very apparent: this could be a very good year for Middle Georgia running backs. After just a handful of games, 23 area running backs have rushed for 100 yards in a game. Another five players have rushed for 90 yards in a game, putting nearly 30 players on pace to crack 1,000 yards this season a year after 18 players crossed the 1,000-yard barrier.

Some of those first week performances were expected. Others were new starters who were good bets to have big weeks and eventually big seasons. A few of those big games came out of nowhere. There are also some others who didn’t have a huge first game but will be able to get to 1,000 yards.

“We’ve thrown the ball a lot of the past few years, but our offense has always been built on a strong rushing attack,” Baldwin head coach Jesse Hicks said before the season. “We’ve been blessed by some great running backs, and that is no different this year. We expect to see a lot of strong running backs this season.”

Hicks’ primary ballcarrier this season, Javonte Edwards, falls into that second category of backs expected to have strong seasons despite getting limited carries last season. The Braves’ senior rushed for 104 yards and one touchdown in the Braves’ opening week win over Glenn Hills.

“Javonte Edwards could be a 2,000-yard back if we gave him all of the carries and just rode him,” Hicks said. “He is that good.”

Southwest senior Tavaris Jones followed a similar path to the one Edwards took.

Jones filled in when necessary for standout Adrian Alexander, just like Edwards did for Jerrico Ford. Jones got his first real chance to shine, however, in the Patriots’ opener last week. Patriots’ head coach Carror Wright gave the ball to Jones 41 times, and the senior responded with 148 yards and two touchdowns in a 14-6 win over Rutland.

“This year is different,” Jones said. “I have to be a leader now. I have to be a leader for my team.”

Aarion Palmer showed flashes of brilliance last season as Howard’s do-everything back. On Friday at Johnson County, Palmer had a career night, rushing for 144 yards and a touchdown.

Robert Williams had one of the biggest games by any back last week when he went for 188 yards and four touchdowns in Houston County’s win over Groves. Williams shared carries with Garrick Davis last week.

Several of the other 100-yard rushers last Friday night had already proved theirselves last season.

Taylor County’s Jonquez Sanders has 351 yards and three touchdowns through the Vikings’ first two games. He already has two 1,000-yard seasons in his career. So does Hawkinsville’s Fabian Forrest, who rushed for 183 yards and two touchdowns in the Red Devils’ win over Jenkins County.

Westside’s Robert Brown, Westfield’s John Lee, Piedmont’s Blake Hammock and Treutlen’s Cartell McLendon all rushed for 100 yards last week after crossing the 1,000-yard barrier last season. Trey Epperson, who is at Griffin Christian after Monroe Academy closed, has 289 yards and two touchdowns a season after rushing for 1,000 yards for the Mustangs.

Then there were the group of players who broke out for 100-yard nights who were unknown to most Middle Georgia football fans this time last week.

The headliner of that group was East Laurens sophomore Demetrius Lewis. Lewis rushed for 211 yards and two touchdowns in the Falcons’ big win over Toombs County.

Shaquille O’Neill showed he could be the next in a long line of good Northside running backs with a 139-yard, one-touchdown performance in a win over Perry.

Brian Sutton was the least publicized of Warner Robins’ backfield rotation, but he led the team in rushing against Wheeler with his 124-yard performance.

Northeast sophomore Curtis Whisby had an impressive debut with 93 yards and three touchdowns in his first start replacing A.J. Cornelius.

“I thought Whisby had a good game in his first real varsity action,” Northeast head coach Bruce Mullen said. “I think that he will be able to help us more as the season goes on. He has great foot speed and is a very good athlete.”