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

Who are the top running backs in Oregon high school football this season?

By René Ferrán, Mike Wilson, Bob Lundeberg, Mitchell Forde and Paul Valencia

Over the next week, we’ll be taking a position-by-position look at some of the top returning players in Oregon high school football. Our next list focuses on the running backs.

IMPORTANT NOTE: These lists were compiled early in the season and are based mostly on last year’s performances and what happened in the first few weeks of this season. Before the season ends, we will be highlighting many of the new stars who have emerged this fall. 

There are hundreds of standout football players in Oregon and these lists are not intended to be comprehensive. Let us know about any other players you think should be added!

Jordan Fisher (Westview) photo by Naji Saker  

Our complete high school football preview:

Breaking down every 6A, 5A, 4A team in the state

State leaders through Week 5:

Class 6A | Class 5A | Class 4A

Eli Aldred, Vale, senior

Aldred played receiver last fall for the Vikings, making the 3A all-state third team, but he moved to running back this season to replace a couple of graduated all-state backs — Nathan Kimball (first team) and Peter McBride (honorable mention). “Eli is a unique football talent,” said his coach and father, Jeff Aldred. “He could play almost any position on the field, both offensively and defensively. He is committed to making his senior season very successful.” 

Trevor Anderson, Mazama, senior

Anderson didn’t begin last season as the starter at fullback, but after Zeke Heaton sustained a leg injury in a Week 4 win over Eagle Point, Anderson stepped into the breach, and the Vikings’ veer offense didn’t skip a beat. Anderson finished the season as a first-team all-Skyline selection with 739 yards and 11 touchdowns on 118 carries. “He is a force on both sides of the ball,” coach Vic Lease said. 

Nate Arce, Dayton, senior

Arce is half of the Pirates’ two-headed running attack. He earned league offensive player of the year honors and was a second-team 3A all-state pick last season, when he ran for 666 yards and a team-high nine touchdowns and caught a team-high seven passes (two TDs) to help Dayton win its first league title since 2016. He picked up where he left off this season with a 102-yard effort in the season opener. “Nate is a very special player,” coach Jacob Peterson said. “He can turn a one-yard run into six through sheer willpower. He is the unspoken leader of this team and is ready to put this team on his back if the moment calls for it.” 

Luke Ash, Tualatin, senior

Ash’s arrival from Clackamas lessened the blow that 6A offensive player of the year Malik Ross’ graduation otherwise would have had on the offense. Ash last season was a first-team all-Mt. Hood selection who led the conference with 17 rushing touchdowns and gained 1,150 yards on 142 carries. New Timberwolves coach Dominic Ferraro will find ways to get him out in space to utilize his speed and athleticism. “He is a very explosive football player,” Ferraro said. “He has good speed and excellent vision.”

Alex Briseno, Silverton, senior

Briseno was an honorable mention all-state selection on offense last season and can do it all at the running back position. He ran for 806 yards and 16 touchdowns as a junior. “He’s got a quiet personality, but I think he’s going to play very loud,” first-year Foxes coach Dan Lever said in August. “He’s very quick and has great hands and vision. I think he’s going to do great things for us.” 

David Brown, Eagle Point, senior

Brown is a three-year starter at running back and has become the featured back after sharing carries with Isaiah Hill last fall. As a junior, Brown ran for 272 yards and two touchdowns on 62 carries, and he caught 13 passes for 81 yards out of the backfield. He made six tackles as a backup linebacker. 

Eli Brown, Stayton, senior

When Cody Leming beat out Brown for the starting quarterback spot last year, that didn’t deter Brown from finding a home in the backfield. Brown is back for his senior season after earning second-team all-league honors at tailback a year ago. Eagles coach Randy Nyquist said that while Brown isn’t necessarily a burner, he’s a physical runner who gets better as a game progresses.

Lonnie Burt, Jesuit, junior

Burt emerged during the second half of last season, finishing with 301 yards and eight touchdowns in backing up all-state second-teamer Michael Rincon. He has shared the backfield with Payton Roth this fall. 

Lonnie Burt (Jesuit) photo by Naji Saker 

Lonnie Burt (Jesuit) photo by Naji Saker 

Colt Cobb, Powder Valley, senior

Cobb was an all-state 1A first-team selection at center last season in leading the Badgers to a runner-up finish in the state playoffs, but his father and coach, Josh, moved him to fullback this season to lead the way for Tucker Martin. Josh also pointed out that Colt is “a big, strong runner” in his own right and “makes his way in the summer as an old-school cowboy” on the family’s ranch in Haines. 

Dawson Cook, La Pine, senior

Cook last season made the all-league first team at running back and the 3A all-state first team as a “flex” player as a two-way threat at fullback. “His primary role is as a receiver, but he runs the ball well, too,” said Hawks coach Bo DeForest.

Luke Cummings, Astoria, senior

Cummings is one of the best returning running backs in Class 4A after rushing for 984 yards and five touchdowns during the 2021 regular season. “I characterize him as a glider — he glides and then takes off. He has really good acceleration,” coach Howard Rub said. “We’re expecting big things. We know we have to get the ball into his hands for us to have a chance to make explosive plays.”

Nathan Dalton, Lost River, senior

Dalton was a second-team 1A all-state selection for the Raiders last fall, and he’s picked up where he left off this season, rushing for 486 yards and six touchdowns in their first two games despite being the focus of opposing defenses. “A lot of attention gets paid in our offense on the fullback,” coach Dennis Dunlea said. “Everyone knows that, so there’s a different sort of mindset that comes with that. Nathan has come into his own as a leader.” 

Hudson Davis, Newberg, senior

Davis could leave Newberg as one of the most decorated athletes in school history. Besides being a two-time defending state champion wrestler who plans to compete at the University of Wyoming, he earned first-team all-conference honors at running back (968 yards, 16 touchdowns) last season. “Hudson embodies all that is great about high school sports,” Tigers coach Jeremy Johnson said. “He’s an excellent student, amazing teammate and extremely coachable kid.” 

Josiah Davis, North Salem, senior

A first-team 5A all-state selection last season, Davis tied Scappoose’s Lukas McNabb for the most rushing touchdowns in the classification at 20 while gaining 1,151 yards during the regular season. The number is even more impressive considering Davis, a three-star prospect, played in only seven games because of a hamstring injury and two forfeits. “The games Josiah did play in, we played very well,” Vikings coach Jeff Flood said. “He has carried us the last couple of seasons and is somebody teams will be focused on.” 

Connor Dye, Springfield, junior

Dye became a starter during the spring season and last fall made the all-Midwestern honorable mention list, rushing for more than 200 yards. “I anticipate him taking care of one side of the field on defense while we continue to find ways to get him the ball on offense,” Millers coach Miles Haley said in August. 

Cayden Eckel, Roseburg, junior

Eckel starred as a sophomore, making first-team all-league for a prolific Roseburg offense, rushing for 999 yards and 13 touchdowns during the regular season. “He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he doesn’t have to be,” coach Dave Heuberger said of the 5-foot-7 Eckel. “He is very shifty, has very good vision and stays on his feet.”

Cayden Eckel (Roseburg) photo by Leon Neuschwander 

Cayden Eckel (Roseburg) photo by Leon Neuschwander 

Jordan Fisher, Westview, senior

Fisher was one of the state’s breakthrough stars last season, averaging 9.5 yards per carry during a school record-breaking 1,549-yard season in which he ran for 24 touchdowns. The No. 8 prospect in 247Sports’ class of 2023 state rankings (with offers from all three military academies) has become an even bigger part of the offense this fall, breaking the school record with 351 rushing yards in Week 2 against Wilsonville. “A very disciplined player who is highly competitive,” coach Ryan Atkinson said. “He is also a great teammate and leader.” 

Caden George, Heppner, junior

George played behind first-team all-state back Brock Hisler last season and carved out a role for himself, earning second-team all-Blue Mountain honors while rushing for 390 yards and four touchdowns. He caught 11 passes out of the backfield. 

Konner Grant, Tigard, senior

Grant last season was the rare player to make the all-TRL team at three positions — including second team on offense, where he ran for a team-high 844 yards and 10 touchdowns. He has an offer from Linfield and has drawn interest from Colorado School of the Mines and Central Washington, among others. “He’s a pretty dynamic, powerful runner, but at the same time, he can run away from guys,” coach John Kemper said in August. “He’s one of our hardest workers, and I’m excited to see what he does this year. It’ll definitely be a fun year for him.”

David Griffith, Philomath, senior

Griffith earned first-team all-league honors in 3A Special District 1 West last season. He has continued to headline Philomath’s run-heavy offense as a senior. “He was probably the focus of our run game last year, so he’s going to be a big part of our offense,” coach Alex Firth said during camp. 

Ethan Hendrickson, Ontario, junior

Hendrickson was a second-team all-GOL selection last season, rushing for 229 yards and four touchdowns. The Tigers moved down to the 3A Eastern Oregon League this year, and he nearly matched his sophomore season totals in Week 1, rushing for 159 yards and three scores. “Ethan committed himself to offseason work, and it has already had a huge impact,” coach Greg Simmons said. “Ethan loves football, loves competing, and has some big goals set for himself and his team this season.”

Kohler Hernandez, Central, senior

Hernandez is a speedster who is in his third season as a starter at running back, gaining 766 yards and scoring seven touchdowns as a junior. He caught 30 passes out of the backfield for 268 yards and two scores. Hernandez ran on Central’s 4x100 relay team that placed third at the 5A track championships. “He has really good vision in our run scheme and great hands out of the backfield,” coach Joel Everett said. “He’s got some big-time explosion.” 

Daniel Iwamizu, Hidden Valley, senior

Iwamizu is the focal point of the offense after earning first-team all-Skyline honors last season, rushing for 971 yards and 11 touchdowns on 145 carries and catching 12 passes out of the backfield. “He will carry the load for us on both sides of the ball,” Mustangs coach Mike Fanger said during camp. “I expect a big year from him.” 

Tyler Konold, Canby, junior

Konold led Class 5A in rushing yards (1,650) and was third in rushing touchdowns (18) last season, when he averaged 10.2 yards per carry. He was voted to the Class 5A all-state first team on offense. Cougars coach Jimmy Joyce called Konold a “gym rat” in describing his dedication to improving his game. “He has a game speed I haven’t seen in too many running backs,” Joyce said. “He can pound out yards really easily, but he can break away, too, really easily.” 

Payton Lambert, Pendleton, senior

Lambert has drawn interest from Northwest colleges both for his prowess on the baseball diamond (he’s ranked No. 12 in the state by Baseball Northwest) and the football field, where last season he made the all-NWOC East first team at running back (115 carries for 630 yards and 12 touchdowns). “I expect Payton to be a top performer in the state on both sides of the ball,” coach Eric Davis said in August. “He’s extremely fast and has tremendous ball skills. We will work to get the ball into his hands often.”

Marcus Ledesma, North Marion, senior

Ledesma earned all-Tri-Valley honorable mention, rushing for nearly 300 yards as a junior. He keyed the Huskies’ season-opening win over Harrisburg by scoring four touchdowns, setting up one of his scores with a big kickoff return. “He’s a quiet storm,” coach Michael Bicknell told the Woodburn Independent after that game. “He is a team leader. He shows it with his work, and it means a lot to him.” 

Kyle Littlejohn, Redmond, senior

A second-team all-league running back last season, Littlejohn was named offensive MVP of June’s 11th-grade Oregon All State Game. He was leading Class 5A in touchdowns as a junior before suffering a season-ending broken scapula. “He’s a downhill, gap scheme type of back,” Panthers coach Brent Wasche said. “He’s a strong kid who can squat a house, and he’s a tough man.” 

Hunter MacDonald, Barlow, senior

MacDonald gained 979 yards (7.9 yards per carry) and scored a team-high 14 touchdowns (four in the Bruins’ first-round OSAA playoff loss to Westview) on the ground last season, earning all-Mt. Hood Conference honorable mention. He returned to the lineup after missing Week 1 with an injury. “He is a difference-maker, and I think we can build the running game around him,” coach Tracy Jackson said.

Hunter MacDonald (Barlow) photo by Taylor Balkom 

Hunter MacDonald (Barlow) photo by Taylor Balkom 

Calvin Macy, Lake Oswego, senior

Macy primarily made his mark last season on defense, but with Gabe Olvera having graduated, Macy is playing a bigger role on offense after receiving all-Three Rivers honorable mention (80 carries for 580 yards and six touchdowns) last fall. “He’s not as versatile as Gabe, but we expect a lot from him,” Lakers coach Steve Coury said in August. “He’s had a great offseason and will be the main running back for sure and a steady guy on defense.” 

Jace Martin, Adrian, senior

Martin was a first-team 1A all-state selection for the state-champion Antelopes, running for 1,240 yards and 16 touchdowns as a junior. He won state titles in the 100 and 200 meters in May and is looking to run track in college. “His speed allows him to get out in front of defenders, and if they take a bad angle, he is all the way,” coach Billy Wortman said. “He is also a great receiver out of the backfield.” 

Tucker Martin, Powder Valley, sophomore

Martin dealt with injuries during the first half of his freshman season, but by year’s end, he’d worked his way into a backfield rotation that included all-state first-teamer Clay Martin. With Clay having graduated, Tucker — a first-team all-league kick returner — becomes the lead back in the rotation.

Brett McKee, Junction City, senior

While the Tigers had to replace their starting quarterback and tailback from last season, McKee returned to anchor the backfield. Junction City lines him up as both a fullback and an H-back in its run-heavy offense. McKee is an integral part of that running game as a ball-carrier and blocker. 

Emilio Miranda, Dallas, senior

Miranda, who was an honorable mention all-league H-back last season, rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the Dragons’ first two games. “Emilio is a very strong kid,” coach Andy Jackson said. “At 5-9 and 175 pounds, he’s a great lifter.” 

Timmy Mitchell, Central Catholic, senior

Mitchell scored three nonoffensive touchdowns last season (two fumble returns and one kickoff return) and became the Rams’ lead back this fall. “He’s so dynamic with the ball in his hands,” coach Steve Pyne said. 

Andre Niko, The Dalles, junior

Niko led the Riverhawks in rushing last season, gaining 491 yards and scoring seven touchdowns in making the all-NWOC East second team. First-year coach Marc Schilling can move Niko around in the new offense to take advantage of the junior’s size and athleticism. 

Malakai Nutter, Bend, senior

An honorable mention all-league running back last season, Nutter will receive plenty of carries as a senior. The 5-foot-9, 190-pound back has an elite first step. “We went to the George Fox camp and Malakai just had a great camp,” coach Matt Craven said. “He is a very physical back and probably has the quickest first 10 yards on the team. He is very explosive with his cuts.” 

Malakai Nutter (Bend) photo by Leon Neuschwander 

Malakai Nutter (Bend) photo by Leon Neuschwander 

Jackson Pfeifer, Silverton, senior

Pfeifer and Briseno are a one-two punch at running back for the Foxes. As a junior, Pfeifer received all-league honorable mention on offense. “With Jackson’s speed, he is going to be able to score from anywhere on the field,” coach Dan Lever said. “He is a home run threat any time he touches the ball.” 

Cody Phillips, Dufur, junior

Phillips was a two-way standout for the Rangers, earning all-league honorable mention as a running back after gaining nearly 1,350 yards as a sophomore. “He’s a great kid, great motor, pretty good speed, and really enjoys contact,” coach Jack Henderson said. 

Johan Poland, Madras, senior

Poland was a two-way all-Tri-Valley selection last season, making the first team in the secondary (33 tackles, four interceptions) and the second team at running back (76 carries for 275 yards and two touchdowns). He has drawn interest from several Division III schools in the region. “His work ethic and high football IQ allow him to make plays on both sides of the ball,” coach Judd Stutzman said. “On offense, Johan is a downhill running back who isn’t afraid of contact.” 

Ty Pugliano, North Medford, senior

A first-team all-league running back and second-team defensive back as a junior, Pugliano is a quiet leader for the Black Tornado on both sides of the ball. The senior is also a standout student who is considering playing football at the next level for Johns Hopkins. “You can just see it from him as we went through the summer,” coach Nathan Chin said. “When you watch him and you have a guy like him on your team, you better elevate your play because he’s going to expect you to get to his level.”

Austin Rapp, McMinnville, senior

Rapp might have had one of the quietest 1,000-yard seasons in the state last fall, gaining 1,018 on 134 carries with 11 touchdowns and making the all-Pacific second team. “He is going to be one of our workhorses and playmakers this year,” Grizzlies coach Ty Tomlin said in August. “He has earned this and will get plenty of touches.” 

Waylon Riedel, Estacada, senior

The bruising fullback scored eight touchdowns last season and now has a larger workload after the departure of Jake Behrman. “Waylon’s a downhill, physical brute,” Rangers coach Andy Mott said. “His nickname is Tank, so that gives you an idea of what he looks like.” 

Grafton Robinson, Sheldon, senior

A first-team all-league running back last year, rushing for 378 yards and nine touchdowns and catching 26 passes for 400 yards and three scores, Robinson is one of the strongest kids in Sheldon’s program. He is in his third season as a starter and has improved his top-end speed, Irish coach Josh Line said. “He was already an elite change-of-direction guy, but the speed is definitely better,” Line said. 

Grafton Robinson (Sheldon) photo by Leon Neuschwander 

Grafton Robinson (Sheldon) photo by Leon Neuschwander 

Payton Roth, Jesuit, senior 

Roth took over starting duties last season before suffering a season-ending ankle injury in Week 4 against Westview. He still finished second on the team with 409 yards and three touchdowns on 52 carries. He sports offers from Columbia, Dartmouth and Colgate. “A premier player for us,” coach Ken Potter said. “He has so much potential. He’s very fast and will be a big part of our success.” 

Zach Smith, Dayton, junior

Smith started last season on the JV team, but by Week 3, he’d worked his way into the varsity lineup, and he ended it as the perfect complement to Nate Arce in the backfield, leading the Pirates with 777 yards and seven touchdowns and making the all-league second team. In Week 1 this season, he ran for 206 yards and four touchdowns. “He is a fast, physical runner who will not be taken down by one tackler,” coach Jacob Peterson said. “His offseason training has taken him to the next level.”

Donald “Chili” Stephens, Lakeridge, senior

Stephens transferred from Grant, where he was a second-team all-PIL selection last fall, gaining 292 yards and two touchdowns on 52 carries and catching eight passes for 197 yards. He ranks No. 31 in the state among 247Sports’ top recruits. “A very strong and athletic athlete with great hands out of the backfield,” Pacers coach Spencer Phillips said. “He has great size but also plays with finesse.” 

Triston Wallace, Cascade Christian, senior

Wallace was one of the top running backs in 3A as a junior, making the all-Far West first team while rushing for 661 yards and 10 touchdowns on 101 carries.

Jake White, Seaside, sophomore

White dominated JV games last year as a running back. Seagulls coach Aaron Tanabe said it was difficult for the coaching staff to stick to the plan, but White got that development at JV without the pressure of varsity — he still ran for 184 yards and three touchdowns in limited varsity action. Now? There is no more time to wait. The Jake White running attack era has started. “He’s going to be our feature back. He has the chance to be special,” Tanabe said during camp. 

Garrett Willenberg, Sandy, senior

Willenberg was second on the team in rushing yards (351) and tops in rushing touchdowns (seven) last season, earning all-Mt. Hood honorable mention. “He loves contact as a running back,” Pioneers coach Josh Dill said. “He loves to run through you and then make you miss.” 

Toby Worsch, Corvallis, senior

Worsch was Corvallis’ go-to running back last season and made second-team all-league. Spartans coach Chris McGowan said the 5-foot-10, 215-pound Worsch makes up for his lack of blazing speed with toughness. “Toby has a low center of gravity, good vision, and he runs hard,” McGowan added. “He’s a pretty smart kid who understands game situations and what we need on a given down.” 

Our complete high school football preview:

Breaking down every 6A, 5A, 4A team in the state

State leaders through Week 5:

Class 6A | Class 5A | Class 4A