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Football 2022: Versatile running backs lead the way among top playmakers in Hall County
Gainesville's Naim Cheeks (7) breaks free on a touchdown run against Winder-Barrow in the preseason game Aug. 12, 2022 at City Park Stadium. - photo by Bill Murphy

In 2022, the top offenses in Hall County will rely heavily on tremendously-talented running backs. 

However, that doesn’t mean they’re going to strictly keep the ball between the tackles. 

With the regular season now upon us, many of Hall County’s top offensive players line up at running back, but it’s their versatility that makes them so valuable. 

Here’s a look at the top 10 offensive playmakers for the season, which begins Wednesday with Cherokee Bluff’s match against Kell in the Corky Kell Classic at John’s Creek High. 

1. NAIM CHEEKS, RB, Gainesville: Seasoned senior running back for the Red Elephants who has the ability to take it the distance from any spot on the field. 

First-year Gainesville coach Josh Niblett will devise unique ways to get it into the hands of Cheeks and see how far he can run with the ball. In 2021, Cheeks topped 1,000 yards on the ground. 

In the scrimmage against Winder-Barrow, Cheeks had a tremendous 60-yard scoring run at the end of the first half where he eluded multiple would-be tacklers. 

His scholarship offers, so far, include Eastern Michigan, Austin Peay and Tennessee Tech, among others. 

2. ZEKE CLANTON, RB, Lanier Christian Academy: Clanton had his breakout performance in 2021, when he topped 1,600 yards as a freshman. In 2022, Lightning coach Bruce Miller is going to line Clanton up in different positions to find the best opportunities for Clanton to break off a big play with their move up to 11-man football. 

3. MYLES IVEY, RB, Flowery Branch: Small but powerful, Ivey will get ample opportunities to move the chains behind a big offensive line. Ivey has breakaway speed and will be counted on heavily for the Falcons in what will likely be a run-heavy attack in 2022. Last season, Ivey led the Flowery Branch offense with 950 yards on the ground. 

4. JHACE JUSTICE, WR, Cherokee Bluff: Justice is going to see his opportunities to catch passes go up a lot this season with 1,600-yard rusher Jayquan Smith and Louisiana Tech signee Marlion Jackson now graduated. In 2021, Justice had 15 catches for more than 300 yards. 

He’ll also factor into the game on special teams and defense, where he recorded four picks last season. 

5. SETH LARSON, WR, Flowery Branch: The most gifted athlete out of the group, Larson is always going to be a threat to score. Not only is he a great receiver but is also gifted in special teams. 

Larson is a two-time wrestling state champion and also a national champion. 

In 2021, he had 576 receiving yards and returned a punt 92 yards for a score against Gainesville. 

6. ANDREW MALIN, TE, West Hall: Big-body receiver and blocker who will be one of the focal points for the Spartans on offense in 2022. After recording 18 catches for 283 yards last season, West Hall coach Krofton Montgomery said Malin has ‘big-time potential.’”

7. TANNER MARSH, QB, North Hall: Extremely accurate passer who completed 12 of 14 throws with two touchdowns in the scrimmage against a talented Flowery Branch on Aug. 5. 

Under first-year Trojans coach Sean Pender, North Hall’s offense will be more pass-heavy than fans of their program have ever seen. 

The Trojans’ junior quarterback will work with an offense loaded with potential playmakers on the outside.

8. DEMETRI MOON, RB, Johnson: Explosive playmaker with great vision and instincts who showed he’s back to 100% physically after rushing for almost 200 yards in a 20-14 scrimmage win against Seckinger on Aug. 12. 

The Knights’ top playmaker missed most of 2021 with a collarbone injury, their coach William Harrell said. 

Moon’s production will be key as Johnson moves to a non-region schedule and looks to pick up its first victory since 2019. 

9. RODNEY ROBINSON, RB, Riverside Military: A 175-pound senior who is rated one of the top 50 running backs in the state by, Robinson has played on varsity all three years of high school for the private military boarding school in Gainesville. 

He has the durability to handle more than 20 touches without losing any production late in the game.

10. BAXTER WRIGHT, QB, Gainesville: A junior who has really become a complete player. 

Not only does Wright have a lively arm and good accuracy, but he’s never afraid to also take off and run with the ball. 

Gainesville’s quarterback had a phenomenal 70-yard scoring run late in the first half of the scrimmage against Winder-Barrow where he had to outrun multiple defenders to the corner and dive to reach the end zone. 

Wednesday’s game

Cherokee Bluff vs. Kell at John’s Creek High

Thursday’s game

Lanier Christian at Harvester Christian

Friday’s games

East Hall at West Hall

Flowery Branch at Decatur

North Hall at White County

Gainesville at Marist

Johnson at Banks County

Riverside Military at Lumpkin County

Chestatee vs. Hebron Christian

Lakeview Academy vs. King’s Ridge Christian

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