|Photo courtesy of Lee Central Coast Newspapers|
The thing that strikes me the most about these guys is their determination and their desire to pound inside to wear down a defense. Here's some of the running back talent to look out for in the junior college circuit:
CAMERON ARTIS-PAYNE, ALLAN HANCOCK COLLEGE-SANTA MARIA
The Bulldogs have long been known for producing a punishing ground attack spearheaded by plenty of size and physicality on the line. Yet, Artis-Payne just may be, potentially, the best to come out of Hancock's backfield.
Artis-Payne (photo), who currently holds New Mexico and Utah State offers, is a 5-foot-11, 220 pound bowling ball of a man who seemed to only stop his feet when the fourth quarter came to a close. He's got to be one of the more instinctive runners in the California junior college scene, even bouncing off of nearly eight defenders and still scoring a touchdown in his highlight film. Some defenders even looked like Artis-Payne was giving them a piggy back ride, since the Bulldog runner dragged some people with him too.
While Artis-payne is built like a north-sound grinder (which is his strong suit), he does have enough speed to dash outside, proven by his 4.5 40-yard dash time.
I haven't really seen him catch out of the backfield, so there's no telling how consistent of a receiver he'll be on swing passes or even inside hooks. He does have great size to be a blitz pick-up back on passing plays. Yet, in the end, with his burst, power, vision and refusal to stop his legs when running the rock, Artis-Payne is keeping a solid tradition of physicality at Hancock alive and well. A nasty and gritty running back in the 805.
MORE ON ARTIS-PAYNE: http://www.hudl.com/athlete/794024/cameron-artis-payne
AARON FIELDS, MODESTO COLLEGE
At 5-foot-8 and 190 pounds, you would think Fields wouldn't be big enough or even be allowed to carry the rock between the tackles.
Wrong sentiment. Fields came off as a guy who made his most explosive runs between his offensive tackles.
An even faster running back with his 4.4 40-yard dash time, Fields is another quick burst guy who also also has stunningly good power for a college football running back at that size. He even violently tosses one poor defender between 1:57-2:10 of his highlight film.
Fields will likely need to be more cautious of how he carries the ball. He has been caught holding the ball away from his body when swinging his arms, even juking one defender with the ball coming across that defender's facemask, which got him away from fumbling.
Still though, Fields has an explosive runner style and a mean streak when carrying the rock that I like. He can even truck people despite his small frame. Might be one of the best kept secrets at running back for the J.C scene in California. He would definitely fit someone's triple option or pistol offense.
MORE ON FIELDS: http://www.hudl.com/athlete/635395/aaron-fields
DAMAR SOWELL, SAN BERNARDINO VALLEY COLLEGE
Sowell is another small, feisty and explosive running back who can do damge on inside runs and even on screen passes.
He's a 5-foot-9, 190 pound back with fast feet and a burst that can get him outside. He does have a tendency to run upright, even with his small frame. But he also can make up for it with his instincts when carrying the rock.
He holds a 4.5 40-yard dash time. I'm equally impressed though with his leaping ability, which is a 36" vertical jump for a player his size. He may have enough speed and jumping ability to be tried at wide receiver.
For the time being, he's definitely one of the more talented running backs in the Inland Empire.
MORE ON SOWELL: http://www.hudl.com/athlete/448018/highlights
JUAN JOHNSON, YUBA COLLEGE-MARYSVILLE
Johnson came on the scene with a 1,246 yard freshman season and eight touchdowns. His speed and running style can help explain his huge year.
Like all the other running backs on this list, Johnson has enough acceleration to bounce inside or out and leave a trail of dust in his wake. But what I actually liked even more from him? His ferocious blocking ability, because he gets low enough to blow up a blitzing linebacker.
Want a gritty, explosive runner who also is willing to throw his shoulder pads around in blocking? He can probably be your guy.
MORE ON JOHNSON: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDWqLJTAP4w
ROB JOHNSON, FRESNO CITY COLLEGE
I've actually watched Johnson over the years from when he was at Central High School in Fresno with Cal return ace Brendon Bigelow and Oregon wide receiver B.J Kelley. Johnson was always the north-south grinder who did the dirty work for the Grizzlies.
Some things never really change, he's still the north-south pounder that he was at Central-Fresno, except this time, he's pounding defenses for the always talented and physical Fresno City Rams.
Johnson had a very nice freshman season as the Rams' top workhorse option. Even though Fresno City went with a more up-tempo, fast paced approach with a heavier emphasis on the passing game, the Rams still didn't neglect the running attack with Johnson in their backfield.
The big thing for Johnson though this upcoming season is two things: his academics and his weight. Johnson had to sit out briefly due to grade issues during off-season workouts. He even looked out-of-shape at one time during the spring.
Seems though those issues have been fixed for the time being. Johnson was last seen looking much leaner and more like a true running back. He says interest still remains from the likes of Eastern Washington and Utah. An even bigger sophomore year should make him the next Ram to see the four-year level.