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Dukes, Evans headline crop of 2018 running backs

Moncks Corner – They come in all shapes and sizes, with varying levels of speed, but the one common denominator with the class of 2018 running backs in South Carolina is production.

The senior class of prep backs include several that topped the 1,500 yard mark in 2017, with a handful reaching the 2000-yard plateau. Impressive considering today’s world of pass-happy offenses.

While it can be argued as to who the top running back prospect in the state might be, there is clearly a list of backs that separate themselves into the upper echelon of such lists.

Though he has played in a weak SCISA Class AA league the last two years, there is no debating the talent and skill level of First Baptist’s Michel Dukes. The 5-10, 190-pounder has topped 2,000 yards in each of his last two seasons, guiding his team to a pair of state championships.

First Baptist will move into Class AAA this fall, giving Dukes a chance to prove his worth against tougher competition. However, the lack of competition has not affected Dukes’ recruiting. He enters the season with 13 Division I offers, a list that includes South Carolina, East Carolina, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and North Carolina.

Dukes says he will likely make a commitment before mid-season and hopes to be able to focus on winning a third state title.

“We, our whole team, looks forward to being in AAA and proving that we are a good team,” Dukes said. “I don’t really look at it as a chance for me to prove how good I am. I think it is more about our team and making sure we win it all. It’s not about me.”

Hartsville’s Tiyon Evans (5-9, 195) also topped 2,000 yards last season, finishing with 2,076 yards and 28 rushing touchdowns. Evans is a versatile back, leading his team in receiving last season as well. He will see some time at quarterback in wildcat packages this fall and is a player who needs the ball in his hands as often as possible.

Berkeley’s Keshawn Wicks (6-1, 185) rushed for just over 2,100 yards last season. Wicks plays in a balanced, explosive offense with several college prospects. The Old Dominion verbal commitment feels Berkeley’s style of play suits his game.

“We have so many weapons, it opens up things for me,” he said. “We’re not a one-man team. We have a lot of guys that can score and put up numbers. I just try to be ready when my number is called and do the best I can do to score. I like my role in this offense.”

Wade Hampton’s Pernell Maxwell was an unknown coming into the 2017 season. His new coach, Jerry Brown, has a knack for producing quality backs and Maxwell was next in a long line of backs that put up big numbers under Brown’s tutelage.

The 5-9, 205-pound Maxwell bench presses 350 pounds and squats over 550 while running a consistent 4.5 in the 40-yard dash. Maxwell was a workhorse last season, pounding his way for more than 2,000 yards and 23 touchdowns.

“I love this offense and having coach Brown come in and make me the focus of the offense has really helped me get better,” Maxwell says. “I didn’t even know who he was before he got here but everyone was talking about how good a coach he is. I can see it now. He knows football.”

Another back built low to the ground but packing a wallop is West Florence’s Ailym Ford. At 5-8, 204-pounds, Ford bench presses 335 and squats 500 pounds while running a 4.5. He currently is getting interest from Old Dominion, Wofford, North Greenville, Furman and others.

Last season, Ford was the main man in the West Florence offense, rushing for 1,856 yards and 17 touchdowns on more than 250 carries. With new head coach Jody Jenerette coming in with a run first philosophy, Ford may get even more opportunities.

“He likes to run the ball and I feel like I can handle the load,” Ford says. “I think I have a chance to help us win game. My goals are team goals first. I want to be a leader and help the younger players improve. If we can improve together, we can win games.”

Zykamren Robinson of Spartanburg is one of the bigger power backs in the state at 6-1, 220-pounds. Robinson, who rushed for just under 1,000 yards last season, recently received an offer from South Carolina. Tennessee and Missouri also have offered, as well as a number of mid-major programs.

Irmo High’s Kendrell Flowers (6-0, 200) is a Wake Forest verbal commitment. Flowers, who began his career as a receiver, is a versatile back. He rushed for about 750 yards last season while adding nearly 500 yards as a receiver. He also held offers from Coastal Carolina, Georgia State, Old Dominion and Purdue, among others.

Anchoring South Pointe’s run game this season will be Joe Ervin, who has committed to Coastal Carolina. Ervin rushed for 1,275 yards and 16 touchdowns for the Stallions, who won their fourth consecutive state championship last season.

Leading the strong running game for powerhouse Abbeville is Courtney Jackson, a 6-1, 205-pound back who anchors a balanced attack.

Wofford commitment Irvin Mulligan (5-11, 190) of Whale Branch is another physical runner who averages 9.0 yards per carry as the focal point in his team’s offense. Look for Mulligan to chase 2,000 yards this season if he remains healthy.

Cheraw’s Quan Pittman returns for his senior season after gaining 1,595 yards last fall, while Lamar’s top back, Jacquez Lucas, also returns for the Class A defending state champions.

Another player to watch is Silver Bluff’s Jimmie Forman, who put up big numbers in limited action last season. Forman (6-1, 180) is drawing interest from several programs and also projects as a defensive player or receiver.

Anchoring Class AAAAA power Dorman’s running game is Thomas Morgan, who rushed for 1,456 yards and 15 scores last fall.

Two backs to watch in the Lowcountry are Stratford’s Mario Anderson and Ashley Ridge’s Nick Cunningham. Both topped 1,000 yards last season but should be more productive this fall.

Anderson (5-9, 190) was impressive at several camps this summer, running a 4.4 on several occasions.

Another top back in the SCISA ranks is Zach Doe of John Paul II. Like Dukes, Doe may be slighted for the level of competition but the 6-0, 210-pound back has all the skills. He rushed for just under 2,000 yards and 25 touchdowns as a junior.

Lower Richland’s Keyshawn Capers (6-0, 200) is one to watch in the Midlands. Capers topped 1,300 yards rushing last season and has received Division I FBS interest early on.

© 2017 High School Sports Report

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