The All-State Running Backs

I hope everyone enjoyed the piece on the Quarterbacks and the thinking of the Selection Committee in arriving at those particular players. Now that we have covered the Quarterbacks, we will turn our attention to the Running Backs. I would like to explain some of at what we were looking when selecting the Running Back position. Obviously, raw data plays more of a role in judging Running Backs then Quarterbacks. There are just fewer intangibles. We looked at the way in which the respective school used them in their systems, whether they blocked, how many yards gained, average per carry, could they find pay dirt when down in the red zone, and their speed and quickness numbers, if we were aware of them. Well, the following are the Running Backs we elected to identify as All-State players, broken down by Class, starting with 2021 with the 2020 backs to follow.

Class of 2021

Ethan Mills, Knox County Central High School, 5’8″ 170

Ethan Mills, Knox Central

I remember first seeing Ethan Mills play for Team Kentucky FBU, 7th grade, two years ago. Needless to say, I was very impressed. So impressed I first featured Ethan on Kentucky Prep Gridiron in an article published April 3, 2017 entitled, Ethan Mills…Where’d He Go? In that article, I told you that Ethan was a scatter-back whom one not only doesn’t see, but certainly can’t catch, even if you could see him. Ethan came into his freshman year weighing 155 but, with commitment to the weight room, has filled out to his present 170 pounds. I have seen Ethan clocked at 4.62 in the 40 but that time is old and I would not doubt, at all, his now running in the 4.5s. Coming into his freshman year, Ethan was a multiple selection to Team Kentucky FBU,  was selected to the East-West Kentucky All-State Game, and played for the Kentucky Future Stars.  Ethan entered the year third team behind both Donovan Arthur and Jermel Carton but, when Arthur went down in the first series of the Letcher Central game, Mills stepped in to help Carton shoulder the load. Playing in 12 games, Mills carried the ball 91 times for 644 yards. Thats averaging approximately 7 yards a carry. Mills still had to share carries with Jermel Carton, who gained 1,263 yards himself. Think what Ethan might have accumulated had he averaged more than between 7 and 8 carries a game. As for finding pay dirt, Ethan finished the year with 9 rushing TDs. I defy you to find a more productive freshman RB than that, especially playing on an 8-4, Class 4A, football team. The Panthers lost to Western 12-3 in the KHSAA 2nd round of the playoffs. The committee felt very secure in selecting Ethan as one of its Freshmen All-State Running Backs.

Brandt Babin, Christian Academy of Louisville, 6’1″ 185

Brandt Babin,

Brandt Babin plays for the Defending Champions in the 2A Classification who happen to be playing in the Semi-State this Friday Night against Mayfield. Now, I am going to say I like Mayfield in that match-up, but I am the one who picked St. Francis DeSales to beat CAL in the State Quarters so, what do I know? Like I told you in the featured article entitled My Goodness…there’s two of them…Brandt and Braeden Babin, going into the State Quarters,  Brandt had rushed for 595 yards with 10 rushing TDs. In round two of the KHSAA Playoffs, Brandt rushed for 177 yards and 3 TDs against a Walton-Verona team which entered the contest 9-2 before losing its third game of the year to CAL 28-0. Babin has now upped his rushing total to 645 yards for the season on 106 rushing attempts for a per carry average of just over 6 yards an attempt. With CAL heading to Mayfield, Babin has an opportunity to increase that number. Babin and CAL are driving toward a State Championship, which would be CAL’s second consecutive, should they win. Babin is playing his best football when it matters most while playing for a team at a school not known for playing freshmen on the Varsity. In addition to his running the football, Brandt has registered 34 tackles from his OLB slot with 19 of those being solo. If Brandt hadn’t made this team as a RB, he would have been strongly considered at OLB, his position on Defense. The selection committee believed he was an easy choice for All-State RB.

Class of 2020

Keaton Martin, South Oldham High School, 5’6″ 190

Photo: Oldham Era Sports

I first made you aware of Keaton Martin in an article entitled Two Giants Collide Friday Night in 5A. South Oldham, behind the rushing of its Sophomore RB scored 450 points this season while gaining 3,256 rushing yards from scrimmage as a team. Martin accounted for 1,258 of those rushing yards on 153 carries while crossing the goal line 17 times. Martin averaged more than 8.2 yards per carry. Martin was able to do all this with opponents game planning to try and stop him all year. Why were opponents game planning to stop Keaton even though he is merely a sophomore? Well, you may recall that Martin gained around 1,500 yards rushing for South Oldham last year as a freshman. Keaton led South Oldham, who finished 11-2 this year, in both rushing yards and TDs. Martin has already been named to his All-District team for his seasonal efforts. Martin formerly played for both Team Kentuckys (Future Stars and FBU) in 2015. His team’s success on the field, his yards from scrimmage, his 17 TDs and his gaudy 8.22 yards per carry average made this selection far too easy. Martin felt to the Selection Committee to be a No Doubt All-Stater at RB.

Dalion Young, Louisville Doss High School, 5’10” 205

Dalion only played in 9 of Louisville Doss’ 12 games but the Class 5A, District 4 team was certainly no joke, finishing the year 8-4 and losing in the 2nd round to Montgomery County. I will tell you who else was no joke and that was Dalion Young. Young, while only playing in 9 games, carried the ball 129 times for 1,123 yards gained from scrimmage. That is averaging over 8.7 yards per carry. Young also had 11 rushing TDs on the year while also kicking an extra point and scoring on 3 two point conversions. We like to call that versatility. No less of an authority than Tom Lemming with The Lemming Report has referred to Dalion as a no doubt Division I RB with good vision and strength. Tough and quick (sic). In the minds of the Selection Committee, who are we to argue with Tom Lemming? Now we have gotten some negative feedback from a reader who feels like a player they were advocating should have made this team over one of our 2020 backs. They weren’t too specific about which but let me assure you the Committee believed the RBs in the 2020 Class were as deep and talented as the LBs in 2021. Were there some more whom may have been deserving? Definitely! Are any we decided to name All-State in any way deficient and inadequate? Absolutely not! When Dalion is inking his Division I, Power 5, scholarship papers, remember from where you heard of him first. He’s definitely an All-State RB. Can’t imagine what his numbers would have been had he played in all 12 of Doss’ games.

Landen Bartleson, Boyle County High School, 6’1″ 185

Landen Bartleson from Boyle County, who I believe I will be seeing in person this Friday night in E-Town Kentucky has been offered by University of Louisville to play football for the Cardinals after his playing career at Boyle concludes. Would you like to know why? It is probably not the 962 rushing yards he gained in Boyle’s 13 games thus far in 124 carries. It is probably not the fact he gained those yards in only 124 rushing attempts for a per carry average of approximately 7.75 yards. Truthfully, Bartleson, in raw yards from scrimmage and yards per carry appeared among the least deserving of any of the RBs we selected All-State from the Class of 2020. Appearances can be very deceiving. I can tell you the Committee didn’t consider him the least deserving, not at all. Bartleson scored 19 rushing TDs, which is quite good, but that isn’t likely to be why the Cardinals offered the Boyle County RB (who also caught 2 TD passes to go along with his 19 he carried across the goal line). While we are at it, Bartleson’s numbers would be a lot better if that dang No. 44 wasn’t hogging the carries and ground gains all the time (Junior, Tanner Crawford, for Boyle, has carried it 210 times for 1,811 yards on the ground with 25 rushing TDs). Anyway, we figured, during the selection process, that the number which might be most important for Bartleson, and why Louisville wants him badly enough to offer him as a sophomore, was his 100 meter time of 10.95 he ran at the KHSAA State Track Meet. According to the NFL’s combine conversion table, 10.95 in the 100 meters equates to Bartleson running a 4.5 second 40 yard dash on the laser timer. The Selection Committee viewed him as the fastest RB in his Class. He’s an All-Stater, all day, in the Committee’s opinion.

Gary Hardy, Logan County High School, 5’6″ 170


I am going to tell you something about Logan County High School you might not believe. Logan was 1-9 last year winning its last game of the year against Todd County. Before winning the last game of the year, Logan HAD LOST 42 STRAIGHT! Don’t mean to yell but 42 straight? So how did the Cougars reverse 42 straight losses to win 12 in a row between 2016 and 2017 before losing to Hoptown in the KHSAA round 2? It didn’t hurt that Logan County had the good sense to hire Todd Adler as its Head Coach from out of the Middle School ranks. It didn’t hurt that an assistant coach named Dain Gregory, now the HC of the Fulton City Bulldogs, a few years back walked the corn fields of Logan County persuading young boys to play football. It also didn’t hurt having young talent on the roster like Gary Hardy and Zach Yates. Gary in 12 games, during which time the Cougars finished 11-1, carried it 205 times for 1,261 yards and 9 rushing TDs. That’s a per carry average of 6.15 yards. As you will see, both in this article and when the article about the LBs gets published, Logan County, with players like Gary Hardy and Zach Yates, are producing sure-fire, All-Staters now. This means the Cougars won’t be going on any prolonged losing streaks anytime soon.

Jariah Hightower, Madisonville North-Hopkins, 6’0″ 205 (FB)


There may not be a finer group of Sophomores in the Commonwealth of Kentucky than what is currently on the roster at Madisonville North-Hopkins. You will see several on this All-State team. Chief among the Maroons’ talent in the Class of 2020 is a guy who was the Defensive MVP in the Tennessee-Kentucky Future Stars Game 2 years ago at LB. That’s exactly how Hightower runs a football too, like he is still playing LB. From his fullback position, which, by the way, he is a runner more so than a blocker, Hightower gained 1,528 yards rushing from scrimmage this past season in 12 games over 233 carries. That is a per carry average of nearly 6.56 yards. From the up-back, you have got to be kidding me. Hightower had 15 rushing TDs to boot. Coach Jay Burgett and the Maroons finished the year 7-5 concluding the regular season the 2 seed from Class 4A, District 1. This was in spite of having a passing game which only accounted for 700 yards all season or, on average, a little over 58 yards passing per contest. The Committee took into account the fact that Madisonville’s opponents couldn’t stop the fullback (Hightower) this year (unless you consider gaining 1,528 yards, 6.56 yards per carry, being stopped) even though they knew he was coming. Of all the RBs we considered, and film we watched, what we didn’t see was a back who ran harder, was more productive, or was more effective running between the tackles than Hightower. That’s why we couldn’t leave him off this All-State team.

Well, I hope this article detailing how the Running Backs were selected from the 2020 & 2021 classes was somewhat illuminating. We will be off for Thanksgiving but, after the break, we plan to analyze the Receivers. Until then, this is Fletcher Long for Kentucky Prep Gridiron reminding you to enjoy Thanksgiving and, for those still playing football, PLAY THROUGH THE WHISTLE!

About Fletcher Long 1497 Articles
Two-time winner of Kentucky Press Association awards for excellence in writing and reporting news stories while Managing Editor of the Jackson (KY) Times-Voice

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