It didn't take long to figure out there was something special happening out on the local football fields this fall.
Playing on Thursday night of Week One, Fairview's Mariano Kemp ground out 143 yards and two scores to lead the Knights to victory. One night later, Noah Roper erupted for 200 yards rushing and three TDs on only 17 carries to power Erie to a big win.
Not to be outdone, Skyline's Jeremy Hollingsworth announced his presence on the statewide scene in Week Two, racking up 265 yards and four scores while leading his team to a 70 point output.
It quickly became apparent that there was a special bread of running backs roaming the local gridirons this season.
The BoCoPreps.com staff had kind of seen this coming, dedicating the main story of our football preview issue to a group of backs we called "The Playmakers," athletes who may have had a RB designation next to their name on the program but who were much more than the classic 3 yards and a cloud of dust backs of yesteryear.
But even we weren't prepared for the seasons local backs put together in 2017. Check out the state rushing leaders on MaxPreps.com, and it's littered with local players, including Roper and Hollingsworth at the very top.
This has truly been the year of the running back, at least locally.
Some of the highlights:
• As we head into the second round of the playoffs, Roper leads the state with 2,073 yards. The Erie junior has found the end zone 28 times, has rushed for at least 200 yards in seven games (including the last three), and had a 308 yard, four touchdown game against Northridge. Not to mention he's also one of the best defensive players in the state.
• Hollingsworth, another junior, led the state in rushing after the regular season and finished his campaign with 1,913 yards and 31 touchdowns (which still leads Colorado). He ran for over 100 yards in every game except the Falcons first-round playoff loss, and had a 362 yard, six touchdown effort against Greeley Central. He also scored multiple touchdowns in every game except three.
• Mead senior Nathan Mackey checks in at 12th in the standings with 1,534 yards, and is a big reason why the Mavericks are undefeated and the top seed in Class 3A. He's also put up his biggest numbers of the year in Mead's last two games, going for 240 and 236, respectively. But he's not the only weapon in the Mavericks' backfield arsenal, as quarterback Tyler Keys has 1,267 yards and Derek Edwards has added 879 more for a club that has rushed for 4,476 yards this season.
• There might not be a more talented back then Fairview's senior Kemp, a deadly combination of strength and speed. At 5-foot-10 and 230 pounds, he can run over opponents just as easily as run around them. Kemp has broken the 100 yard mark in seven games, including 200 against rival Boulder and 177 in the regular season finale. He currently has 1,271 yards rushing and 22 touchdowns, but isn't required to carry as heavy a load as some of the other backs, as the Knights also feature the state's leading passer in sophomore Aiden Atkinson (3,025 yards and 22 TDs in the air).
While those four stand out above the crowd, there was plenty of other local backs that had fine seasons. Boulder's Patrick Fletcher finished with 1,238 yards, Cole Polluconi ran for 1,122 yards and 16 TDs while helping Monarch back to the playoffs and Drake Engelking's 1,052 yards is a big reason why Longmont has won seven straight games.
Maybe the most telling stat of all the one's mentioned above, however, is that outside of Boulder's Fletcher, who was playing on a team that is in a definite rebuild mode, those other six backs led their teams to the playoffs.
Fortunately, if you haven't seen any of these backs play this year, you still have a chance. Roper, Kemp, Mackey and Engelking will all be on the field this weekend, trying to get their teams one step closer to a state championship.
John Rosa: 303-473-1315, firstname.lastname@example.org