It is not a gigantic list. But it is a list filled with playmakers; offensive weapons who know how to get out of the backfield, get their legs churning, get into the second level and break off huge chunks of yardage.
They are the top returning rushers due back in the Lancaster-Lebanon League this fall, and a pair of them — including the top ground-gainer returning from last year — are quarterbacks.
But first things first: The league lost seven 1,000-yard backs to graduation from the 2019 campaign, including the Class 5A Player of the Year. That’s a lot. Safe to say these guys will be missed in their team’s backfield this season:
Annville-Cleona’s Trevor Porche (league-leading 1,660 yards, 15 TD), Cocalico’s Noah Palm (1,627 yards, league-leading 35 TD, named 5A Player of the Year by three media outlets), Solanco’s Nick Yannutz (1,619 yards, 14 TD), Cedar Crest’s Tyler Cruz (1,316 yards, 19 TD), Lancaster Catholic’s Jeff Harley (1,260 yards, 19 TD), Lampeter-Strasburg’s Bryan McKim (1,205 yards, 16 TD) and Donegal’s Joe Fox (1,020 yards, 11 TD) have all moved on.
Those guys were horses, and took the ball early and often. Porche and Yannutz were fullback types who could pick up the tough yards between the tackles. Ditto for McKim, who was a real grind-it-out back for L-S. Harley, Cruz and Fox were speed guys — Harley also killed it in special teams — who could flat-out beat you with their legs. And then there’s Palm, who had a senior season for the ages last year, helping Cocalico win D3 5A gold.
There are eight backs who had 700 or more yards last fall that are set to return for the 2020 season, which gets started — yeah, yeah, fingers crossed — with heat acclimatization practice Aug. 10.
Here are the eight leading returning rushers from a year ago, listed by total yardage compiled in 2019 …
Braden Bohannon, rising senior, Elco — 255 carries, 1,557 yards, 6.1 avg., 19 TD
Colton Miller, rising senior, Warwick — 257 carries, 1,314 yards, 5.1 avg., 30 TD
Tanner Hess, rising senior, Hempfield — 139 carries, 961 yards, 6.9 avg., 14 TD
Kaleb Brown, rising senior, Wilson — 115 carries, 773 yards, 6.7 avg., 4 TD
Mason Lenart, rising senior, Wilson — 64 carries, 760 yards, 11.9 avg., 6 TD
John Dykie, rising senior, Garden Spot — 160 carries, 735 yards, 4.6 avg., 5 TD
Alex Knapp, rising senior, Lampeter-Strasburg — 80 carries, 724 yards, 9.1 avg., 8 TD
Steven Flinton, rising junior, Cocalico — 81 carries, 713 yards, 8.8 avg., 8 TD
Bohannon was a Class 4A all-state selection, and he and Brown are the two quarterbacks on the list. Bohannon steers Elco’s Veer — quite well, thank you — and Brown has electric escapability and can squeeze his way through tiny cracks for extra yardage when he’s flushed. … Miller was a bucking bronco for Warwick last fall, hammering his way to daylight, often times running behind blue-chip O-tackle Nolan Rucci. He body slammed his way to 30 TD runs, and he was a bull to stop in short yardage situations for the Warriors. When you think Warwick these days, you usually think about QB Joey McCracken and his array of air weapons first. But Miller did a ton of damage in the rushing department last fall, and he’s ticketed for a big senior season. … Hess is Hempfield’s Swiss army knife; he’s played some QB and RB for the Black Knights over the years, and it appears he’ll stick at RB this fall under first-year skipper George Eager. … Speaking of Swiss army knives, L-S has one in Knapp, who lines up all over the place for the Pioneers: In the backfield, split wide, in the slot. He’ll run the jet sweep, take tosses, handoffs and quick-hitters. With McKim gone, we’re anxious to see if Knapp gets more play as the feature RB this fall. No matter where he’s at, look out. … Two jackrabbit backs here in Lenart and Flinton, who can dart, spin and make you miss. And if either of those guys breaks free, forget it. Lenart’s 11.9 rushing average was tops among qualified backs last fall, and Flinton, at 8.8, wasn’t too far behind on that list. Speed, speed and more speed from those guys. ... Dykie is an underrated kid at Garden Spot; he’s put together back-to-back solid seasons toting the rock for the Spartans, and he’s been very durable and very reliable. He’s poised for a 1,000-yard season to cap his career.
More notables …
There are plenty more backs due back this fall, and with a lot of first-string jobs open around the league, we’re expecting these guys to get more touches as the season progresses:
Ephrata multi-purpose back Miracle Wratto returns for the Mountaineers. He rushed for 484 yards and nine scores last fall, when Ephrata won six games for the first time in nearly 20 years. Skipper Kris Miller has Wratto penciled in as the Mounts’ QB on his preseason depth chart, so every play will start with him. … If not for a nagging injury, Conestoga Valley breakaway back Booper Johnson seemed destined for a big season for the Buckskins. When he was on the field, he scooted for 344 yards and three scores. With CV breaking in a new QB this season, expect a healthier Johnson to be a workhorse back. … Got you started with a Miracle and a Booper. … More Ephrata: Richard Greer (407 yards, 7 TD) is a reliable, go-to back, with breakaway speed. And here’s another name to remember in Mounts’ land: Andre Weidman (188 yards, 2 TD) had a breakout freshman season last fall, especially from his linebacker spot, where he earned all-star nods aplenty as a ninth-grader. He’ll be one to watch for the next three years in Ephrata. Remember his name. … Donegal is set to return 2/3 of its Wing-T backfield, and that’s certainly good news for the Indians, who will also have vet QB Trent Weaver back in the fold. Durable backs Garrett Blake (680 yards, 7 TD) and Mason Ober (452 yards, 7 TD) will certainly help Donegal go. They’ll just need a new speed back to step in for Fox, a 1,000-yard kid last fall. … Solanco loses Yannutz, a two-time 1,000-yard plow-horse in the Golden Mules’ Flexbone scheme. But they’ll return a solid speed back in Ronnie Fulton, who bolted for 482 yards and seven scores last season. … Yes, Bohannon makes a ton of plays on his feet for Elco. But in Luke Williams, the Raiders have a reliable back who will take the rock; he rushed for 541 yards and five scores last fall, when Elco went to the district playoffs for the second year in a row. … Two kids to watch up in Section 1: Penn Manor’s Isaiah Stoltzfus (419 yards, 7 TD) and Hempfield’s Anthony Droege (383 yards, 2 TD) will definitely help out in their respective attacks. … And three kids to keep an eye on in Section 4: Octorara’s Mike Trainor (379 yards, 1 TD), Pequea Valley’s Tony Lazar (282 yards, 2 TD) and Annville-Cleona’s Chase Maguire (197 yards, 3 TD) should all get more carries this time around. Maguire is also a nifty OLB/edge/safety type in A-C’s D, and Trainor will flatten you from his secondary spot.