West Ranch High’s Jake Rice was a lightly used wide receiver last season.
Golden Valley High’s KJ Maduike was a backup.
Valencia High’s Moises Haynes was on junior varsity.
Canyon High’s Brian Devereaux sat out the season after transferring in.
Four Foothill League running backs who made little or no impact on varsity in 2015 have made major noise through five games this season.
But those were preleague games, played everywhere from Simi Valley to Bakersfield.
So if you didn’t have a chance to see them before league play opens Friday night, consider this a formal introduction.
Rice, Maduike and Haynes are on pace for 1,000-yard seasons. The reason Devereaux may not make it is because he’s teammates with another solid running back, Henry Arellano.
Devereaux, who transferred to Canyon from St. Genevieve High of Panorama City before the 2015 season, has rushed for 314 yards on just 37 carries. He’s averaging 8.5 yards per carry, boosted by the 167 he dashed for on nine carries against Simi Valley on Sept. 23 — all in the third quarter.
That physical outburst embodies the first word that comes to coach Rich Gutierrez’s mind when asked about his new weapon.
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“Explosiveness,” Gutierrez said. “If you’ve met Brian, he’s not a small guy (5 feet, 9 inches, 195 pounds). He’s just got a great elusiveness about him. He’s tough to tackle.”
So, too, is Arellano, who’s rushed for 479 yards on 87 carries in Canyon’s 4-1 preleague season. Devereaux and Arellano are fourth and fifth on the Foothill League’s rushing yards leader board.
Haynes, a junior, is first.
In his inaugural varsity season, the 5-9, 190-pound back has carried the ball 94 times for 629 yards. He’s on pace for 1,258.
That would make him the 26th Foothill League running back to break the 1,000-yard mark since 2004, and the first since 2014.
2015 was the only time in the last 12 seasons that no league running back reached four digits.
But Haynes’ production in Valencia’s third game has him pointed in that direction.
He ran for 256 yards and three touchdowns in a rout of Newbury Park.
Since then he’s run for 106 and 105 yards, respectively.
Quarterback Aaron Thomas has been most impressed with Haynes’ ability to slip through holes in the line, bounce off tacklers and get upfield.
“He not only has speed and agility to make moves,” Thomas said, “but if he has to run someone over, he will.”
The combination of power and speed is also what strikes West Ranch’s Hunter Anderson about Rice.
Anderson, a wide receiver/defensive back, says tackling his teammate can be an unwelcome task at practice.
“He’s quick, but he’s also like a little tank,” Anderson said. “He’s so firm and small. … He’s like a tank and a Ferrari.”
Rice missed West Ranch’s first game, a 28-26 loss at Simi Valley, due to an ankle injury. But he returned to run for 170 yards against Pasadena and 167 yards against Thousand Oaks, both wins.
He said Tuesday the ankle was roughly 70 percent healthy during those games. West Ranch’s bye last week, he said, has him closer to 100 percent.
After catching four passes for 99 yards last year, Rice has run for 536 yards in 2016, putting him on pace for 1,206. He’d be the first Wildcat to rush for 1,000 yards since Mark Collins in 2012.
Maduike could be Golden Valley’s first 1,000-yard runner since Earl Johnson in 2011.
Like Johnson, Maduike had to wait his turn. Johnson rushed for 698 yards on 114 carries his junior year as then-Grizzly Jeff Coprich owned the headlines.
Coprich then transferred to West Ranch, and Johnson blossomed, carrying 187 times for a league-leading 1,393 yards as a senior.
Maduike now has his opportunity.
He backed up then-senior Jesse Camacho last season, but has come into his own this year. He’s carried the ball 76 times for 581 yards and is on pace for 1,162.
The difference this year, Grizzlies coach Dan Kelley said, has been opportunity and maturity.
“I believe he’s right where he should be as a senior,” Kelley said. “There’s a big difference between a junior running back and a senior back. Last year he was coming in from the JV team to varsity. Now he has one year of varsity under his belt.”
The sentiment holds true for all four of these fresh faces at running back: What a difference a year can make.