Update Monday, January 7. Add Jon Vaughn and Bob Christian, both of McCluer North to the list. Christian starred at Northwestern while Vaughn played at Michigan before going on to the NFL. Bryan Keys actually played in the 80s, graduating Burroughs in 1986.
Update Sunday, January 6. Morris Bradshaw, running back from Edwardsville has been added to the list. He was a star running back at Ohio State; converted to wide receiver upon the arrival of Archie Griffin and went on to a story-book receiving career with the Oakland Raiders.
When Montee Ball crossed the goal line for the Wisconsin Badgers against Stanford in the Rose Bowl New Years day, history was made.
The former Timberland (Wentzville) rusher was the first back to score touchdowns in three Rose Bowl games in the 99-year history. He was also the first Rose Bowl back to gain at least 100 yards three times. Ball will leave a pile of records at Wisconsin as he moves onto the National Football League.
All of this reminds me that St. Louis has been a hot bed for running backs as long as I can remember.
I’ve been around prep football since the late 1950s.
In 1959, three great backs dominated the scene. That would be Jon Mars at John Burroughs, Andy Russell from Ladue and Normandy’s Norm Beal.
There were no state playoffs in those days. Bragging rights went to league champions like those of the ABC and Suburban conference.
On the last day of the season (and long before cell phones were dreamed of), word spread quickly that Mars and Russell were locked in a scoring showdown. Ladue made sure that play was halted near the end zone on several drives, allowing Russell to pound in 4 TDs that day and win the scoring title outright.
Russell and Beal went onto Mizzou while Mars became a successful back at Colorado.
Picking the best
If all things were considered equal (and they are not) like size, speed, equipment and coaching, it would be very difficult to pick top three rushers over some nearly 60 years.
This is how I see it:
The three best ever in St. Louis are:
- Tony Van Zant, Hazelwood Central
- Ezekiel Elliott, John Burroughs
- Montee Ball, Timberland
There can be plenty of argument for that.
Van Zant had 91 touchdowns and 6,000 yards. He came to the Central varsity late in his freshman year. Elliott rushed for 1,431 yards and 37 TDs his senior season, 70 total TDS the last two seasons.
Ball broke all the rushing records in the Gateway Conference and had a brilliant four-year career at Wisconsin.
Zeke Elliott will be going to Ohio State and Ball to the NFL. Van Zant is coaching at Lincoln University in Jefferson City. here’s some more for the list.
The vintage years
Old timers would include The late Norris Stevenson, Vashon (first African American athlete at Mizzou); Ray Thorpe, Ritenour (now coaching at John Burroughs); Webster Groves sensations Walter Smallwood and Olympic sprinter Ivory Crockett; Carl Gentile and Dick Musial, CBC; Bill Ziegler and John Iovaldi, SLUH; Gus Otto, McBride; (Mizzou and Oakland Raiders) and Morris Bradshaw, Edwardsville (Ohio State and the Oakland Raiders).
The next era, the 70s and 80s
That list includes:
Jerome Heavens, Assumption, East St. Louis; Ron “Sleepy” Floyd, CBC; John Mineo, Parkway Central; Glen Malvern, Parkway West; Frank Stobie, Lindbergh; Bill Greenwood, Highland, Illinois; Keno Laney, Ladue; Mike Mayweather, Country Day (runnerup up in the Heisman Trophy vote at Army); Amaro Ware, Brentwood; Ken Barry, Priory; Jack Gokin, Vianney; Tracey Mack, Webster Groves; Gregg Smith, Burroughs; Kevin Potter, Soldan; Chris Moore, East St. Louis; Terell Fletcher, Hazelwood East; Ernest Blackwell, Eureka; Demetrious Johnson, McKinley; Lorenzo Brinkley, Hazelwood Central; Hickey Thompson, Belleville Althoff; Thomas Rooks and Tony Buford, Lutheran North; the Kirkwood trio of Chester Jackson, Michael Simmons and Steve Powell, and a trio from Summner: Sorrell Harvey, Anthony Stafford and Ben Cowins.
More recent stars, the 90s
Lawrence Maroney, Normandy (New England Patriots); the late Damien Nash, Riverview Gardens, (Mizzou); Brock Olivo, St. Francis Borgia (Mizzou); Bryan Keys, Burroughs, (Penn); Thomas Merriweather, Hazelwood East (Miami of Ohio); Markus Golden, Affton (Mizzou); Rob Standard, Chaminade (Iowa State); Jason Ford, Belleville Althoff, (Illinois); Ronnie Wingo, SLUH (Arkansas); Michael Scherer, MICDS (Mizzou); and senior to be, Markel Smith, Vianney.
Seems like different parts of the country are noted for different skill sets. St. Louis, undoubtedly has made its mark with running backs.
Hats off to all these great performers.
If I missed someone, please drop that name to firstname.lastname@example.org or tell us in the comments box below.