With 2012 evolving into the Year of the Running Back, it's a good time for Richard T. Estrada rank the dozen greatest Stanislaus District running backs in his quarter-century of watching high school football in the region. Here's the list, listed alphabetically:
ANTHONY AUSTIN, LOS BANOS: The 6-foot-6 sprinter he ran a 10.93 100 meters to win the Sac-Joaquin Section title as a senior helped LB to a section crown in '88 and piled up 1,686 yards and 22 TDs in an era when topping 21 points was considered high scoring.
FREDDY BLAND, MERCED: Everyone knew the 160-pounder was getting the ball, but that made little difference. He had one of the greatest years ever in the district: Playing Division 1, against large schools, he ran for 1,833 yards and had 33 TDs while leading Merced to the 1993 section final. His career totals of 49 TDs and 304 points were school records.
LOUIS BLAND, CENTRAL CATHOLIC: The Bee's Player of The Year in 1996 and '97, he went to Washington State after taking Central to a state bowl. He had 1,763 yards and 32 TDs his 107 career TDs were a section record. He ran for 5,140 yards, averaging 10.5 yards a carry, in three-plus seasons.
OSCAR CASTANEDA, HUGHSON: Three Huskies were looked at for the list, but Castaneda got the nod. He had 1,986 yards (10.7 a carry) as a senior, despite twisting his ankle late in the season having just one playoff game. He was the top rusher in the state for the six weeks and in 1994 was The Bee's first outright Player of the Year from a small school.
ANTHONY HARDING, PITMAN: Playing with QB Colin Kaepernick, Harding was a three-year star with 4,095 yards and 52 TDs in his career. He ran for 1,710 as a junior and 1,666 as a senior then went on to be a starter at Fresno State.
MARCUS HERNANDEZ, OAKDALE: As close as we got to 2012, Hernandez was cut from the mold of what every coach wants in a Wing-T fullback: Fast, physical, always leaning forward. His 1,633 yards and 32 TDs as a senior led Oakdale to a 13-1 mark. The Bee's Player of the Year in 2011 had 3,035 yards and 57 TDs in his two years.
WENDELL MATHIS, MERCED: If you're looking for the perfect back, it could be Mathis. He ran for 1,981 yards and 21 TDs as a senior, before moving on to UCLA. His 3,493 career yards set a school record and that's a feat, considering Merced is as close to Running Back U as the district will get.
JOSH PARRY, SONORA: Never hurts when you go on to play in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles, but Parry was a three-time all-district pick at three positions. He had 1,214 yards and 19 TDs as a senior, leading Sonora to a 24-3 upset of Del Oro in the 1995 final.
RODNEY PERCOATS, LOS BANOS: One of the great power backs, the 6-4, 225-pounder often ran over rather than around defenders. He led LB to a section title in 1989, running for with 1,620 yards and 26 TDs. He finished with 3,777 yards, 53 TDs and an 8.5-yard average in three varsity seasons.
JHAY ROLAND, MERCED: As dynamic as any player in the region in the last quarter-century, Roland reignited the tradition of Merced football in his three years. Merced was 41-1 with two D1 section titles and a state title in 1990 CalHi ranked the Bears No. 1 overall, not just in a division. His 1990 squad went and remains the best-ever in the district. Career totals of 3,160 yards, 43 TDs and 8.7 yards a carry.
NICKO TATUM, DAVIS: The 5-9, 195-pound bruiser rushed for 2,063 yards in 1995 the first district back to do that and 25 TDs on the way to being The Bee's Player of the Year. His 375-pound bench press, in the days before weight-lifting became a religion, was as impressive as any rushing stats.
ANTHONY VOLSAN, MERCED: He was on the Bears state title team in 1990 as a sophomore, and ran for 3,318 yards in his career before being The Bee's Player of the Year in '92. The best pure speed back in the district in a quarter-century, he was third in the 100 and 200 at the 1992 and '93 state track meets. His Bears won the state track his senior year.
RICHARD T. ESTRADA