PrepZone: Crop of top rushers returns looking to chew up more yardage in 2012

Running backs were on the rise in Southwest Florida last high school football season, and they could keep climbing in 2012.

After a dry spell at the position for a few years, running backs were once again breaking tackles and slashing through defenses last fall. There was a depth of ball carriers across the area, and the talent pool could be even deeper this season.

Seven rushers broke the 1,000-yard barrier last year after only two running backs hit the milestone the previous two seasons combined. Six of the 1,000-yard backs return this season, and 11 of the 16 rushers to go for more than 600 yards also are back.

No one in the Daily News' 13-team coverage area ran for 1,000 yards in 2009. In 2010, just two hit the mark — Barron Collier quarterback Julio Gomez and Naples sophomore surprise Manny Morgan.

The two set a trend, as eight of the area's nine leading rushers last year were underclassmen (including Morgan) and three also were quarterbacks.

Three of the 1,000-yard backs were sophomores last season — Golden Gate's Breon Brown (1,235 yards), St. John Neumann's Johnny Augustin (1,123) and Palmetto Ridge's Ron Johnson (1,026). A third sophomore, Lely quarterback Karbiel Dirogene, just missed hitting the milestone (938 yards).

With so much talent returning to the backfield, the area could see some of the highest rushing totals in recent memory. Morgan's tally last season was the highest since Lely's Darion Hall rushed for 1,791 yards in 2008. Also that year, Barron Collier's Quin Thornton finished with 1,662 rushing yards and Naples' Carlos Hyde, now at Ohio State, had 1,650.

The 2012 season could even top 2007. Five players rushed for more than 1,000 yards that year, and each of the eight Collier County teams at the time (Community School, First Baptist and Marco Island Academy did not have teams yet) had a running back go for at least 700 yards.

Here's a look at the area's top returning running backs and what to expect from them this season:

Scott McIntyre/Staff
Naples High School running back Manny Morgan dodges players from North Miami High School during their game on Friday August 31, 2012 at Naples High School.

Photo by SCOTT MCINTYRE

Scott McIntyre/Staff Naples High School running back Manny Morgan dodges players from North Miami High School during their game on Friday August 31, 2012 at Naples High School.

Manny Morgan, senior, Naples

Last year

Att Yards Rush TDs

155 1,321 8

Rec Yards Receiving TDs

12 230 2

Since bursting onto the scene has a sophomore, Morgan has 2,477 yards over the past two seasons, leading the area both years. He has averaged 8.4 yards per carry and 99.1 yards per game in his career despite never having carried the ball more than 20 times in a game. Morgan looks to match the feat accomplished by former Naples great Duane Coleman from 1999 to 2001 by notching three straight 1,000-yard seasons. "My goal is to get the top spot at Naples High, to be better than Duane Coleman."

* * *

First Baptist Acadamy quarterback Corey Todd gets ready for the snap during a preseason match-up against Coral Springs Christian at FBA on Friday night. Jason Easterly/Special to the Daily News

Photo by JASON EASTERLY

First Baptist Acadamy quarterback Corey Todd gets ready for the snap during a preseason match-up against Coral Springs Christian at FBA on Friday night. Jason Easterly/Special to the Daily News

Corey Todd, senior, First Baptist

Last year

Att Yards Rush TDs

106 1,281 13

Completions-Attempts Pass yards Pass TDs

55-105 889 7

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound truck of a quarterback was the area's regular-season leading rusher last year. Todd sat out the Lions' final game with an ankle injury, but averaged 142 rushing yards a game. After an average start to his junior year, Todd ran for 1,144 yards his final seven games before the injury, including a 311-yard performance against Evangelical Christian. "He's a big, strong kid," FBA coach Billy Sparacio said. "I don't see any reason why he can't do the same thing this year."

* * *

Jason Easterly/Special to the Daily News
Golden Gate running back Breon Brown blocks a tackle from Gulf Coast High defensive back Tanner Roe to gain extra yardage during Saturday mornings game held at Gulf Coast.

Photo by JASON EASTERLY

Jason Easterly/Special to the Daily News Golden Gate running back Breon Brown blocks a tackle from Gulf Coast High defensive back Tanner Roe to gain extra yardage during Saturday mornings game held at Gulf Coast.

Breon Brown, junior, Golden Gate

Last year

Att Yards Rush TDs

169 1,235 7

Rec Yards Receiving TDs

6 32 0

All eyes were on Brown as soon as he entered high school after he was a youth All-American in middle school. In his first varsity action, he didn't disappoint. Brown ended his sophomore season with seven straight 100-yard games, including 165 in a playoff loss to Cape Coral. Brown's main role this season will be as the Titans' starting free safety, but he'll be used some on offense. "I'm looking for big plays on defense," Brown said. "I'm doing what's best for the team."

* * *

Jason Easterly/Special to the Daily News
St. John Neumann sophomore Johnny Augustin makes a run for yardage against Southwest Florida Christian during Friday nights match-up at Buckingham Park in Ft. Myers.

Photo by JASON EASTERLY

Jason Easterly/Special to the Daily News St. John Neumann sophomore Johnny Augustin makes a run for yardage against Southwest Florida Christian during Friday nights match-up at Buckingham Park in Ft. Myers.

Johnny Augustin, junior, St. John Neumann

Last year

Att Yards Rush TDs

157 1,123 12

Rec Yards Receiving TDs

13 157 1

Augustin had six 100-yard games last year, including 200 yards and two touchdowns against First Baptist. He will again be the Celtics' featured back and will share the backfield with senior Ryan O'Rourke, who has 1,376 yards the past two seasons. "We have a good group of running backs," coach Steve Howey said. "(Augustin) is working real hard. He's looking good out there." Augustin also will start at defensive back.

* * *

William DeShazer/Staff
Estero's Eric McFadden makes his way up field while avoiding a diving tackle against Barron Collier's Nathan Leedy at Estero High School on Friday Aug. 24, 2012.

Photo by WILLIAM DESHAZER

William DeShazer/Staff Estero's Eric McFadden makes his way up field while avoiding a diving tackle against Barron Collier's Nathan Leedy at Estero High School on Friday Aug. 24, 2012.

Eric McFadden, senior, Estero

Last year

Att Yards Rush TDs

175 1,102 9

Rec Yards Receiving TDs

40 454 3

The Wildcats' pass-first offense found a workhorse on the ground last year in McFadden. As a junior he had 59 percent of Estero's rushing attempts and 93 percent of the team's rushing yards. Against Cape Coral-Mariner, McFadden ran 42 times for 286 yards. If he has his way, he'll get the ball even more as a senior. "They're going to feed me a lot this year," McFadden said. "My goal is 20 touchdowns and 1,500 rushing yards."

* * *

Palmetto Ridge's Ron Johnson crosses the goal line for the first touchdown of the game. Palmetto Ridge High School was leading Lely 6-3 in the first quarter when the game was postponed due to lightning in the area. Photo Gary Jung/Special to the Naples Daily News

Photo by GARY JUNG

Palmetto Ridge's Ron Johnson crosses the goal line for the first touchdown of the game. Palmetto Ridge High School was leading Lely 6-3 in the first quarter when the game was postponed due to lightning in the area. Photo Gary Jung/Special to the Naples Daily News

Ron Johnson, junior, Palmetto Ridge

Last year

Att Yards Rush TDs

146 1,026 10

Rec Yards Receiving TDs

13 157 1

Johnson had six games of 120 rushing yards or more in his first varsity season — but he also had three games under 50 yards. The 5-foot-11 back added 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason and is up to 215, making him tough to bring down. He's a captain this year and will see more time on defense at linebacker. "I have high expectations for myself," Johnson said. "I'm expecting a large lump sum of yards, over 1,000."

* * *

Jason Easterly/Special to the Daily News
Lely High School quarterback Karbel Dirogene attempts to push past Naples High defensive end Cody Christner on a run during Friday nights match-up at NHS.

Photo by JASON EASTERLY

Jason Easterly/Special to the Daily News Lely High School quarterback Karbel Dirogene attempts to push past Naples High defensive end Cody Christner on a run during Friday nights match-up at NHS.

Karbiel Dirogene, junior, Lely

Last year

Att Yards Rush TDs

146 938 9

Completions Attempts Pass yards Pass TDs

105 193 1,112 11

Dirogene was one of the few bright spots during the Trojans' 1-9 season. Whether passing or rushing, he accounted for 80.6 percent of Lely's total offense. First-year coach Stacey Stewart wants his best athletes on defense, so he has switched Dirogene to outside linebacker. Stewart said Dirogene will continue to contribute on offense, but wouldn't let on how much. "Karbiel is a weapon," Stewart said. "I'm finding ways to use him."

* * *

Scott McIntyre/Staff
Immokalee High School quarterback Tshumbi Johnson runs upfield past Lehigh High School defenders during their game at Immokalee on Friday night.

Photo by SCOTT MCINTYRE

Scott McIntyre/Staff Immokalee High School quarterback Tshumbi Johnson runs upfield past Lehigh High School defenders during their game at Immokalee on Friday night.

Tshumbi Johnson, senior, Immokalee

Last year

Att Yards Rush TDs

142 862 19

Completions Attempts Pass yards Pass TDs

142 862 2,629 25

The Daily News Broxson Trophy winner as the area's best overall player, Johnson looked to be a shoo-in to break 1,000 yards after rolling up 820 yards on the ground in the regular season. However in three playoff games he was held to 42 yards. In his fourth year as the starting quarterback, Johnson has led the team in rushing each of the past two seasons. He is committed to South Florida as a receiver.

* * *

Immokalee High Schools D'Ernest Johnson dives into the endzone for a touchdown over Gulf Coast High's Charlie Cannaday during Friday nights match-up at Gulf Coast High. Jason Easterly/Special to the Daily News

Photo by JASON EASTERLY

Immokalee High Schools D'Ernest Johnson dives into the endzone for a touchdown over Gulf Coast High's Charlie Cannaday during Friday nights match-up at Gulf Coast High. Jason Easterly/Special to the Daily News

D'Ernest Johnson, junior, Immokalee

Last year

Att Yards Rush TDs

120 835 16

Rec Yards Receiving TDs

14 134 0

Tshumbi's younger brother, D'Ernest Johnson is the next big Division I recruit out of Immokalee. He already has scholarship offers from Florida, Georgia, Louisville and Mississippi. Johnson should split most the team's carries with senior Jacky Marcellus, a West Virginia recruit who had 691 rushing yards last season. Johnson reached his yardage total last year despite never carrying more than 14 times in a game.

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