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Who's best in the backfield? Here's a look at the top 5 running backs in Hall County
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North Hall running back Kevin Rochester breaks off a big run for the Trojans Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, during their game with West Hall at Spartan Field. - photo by Scott Rogers

The skillsets for the top running backs in Hall County vary considerably.

However, they all share one thing in common: with one crease and a good angle to the end zone, it’ll be six points.

Through six weeks of the regular season, most programs in Hall County have played five games.

And the stats the top ball carriers are putting up are gaudy numbers, to say the least.

Here’s a look at the top five running backs in Hall County.

1. KEVIN ROCHESTER, NORTH HALL, Sr.: North Hall’s leading running back stands at 966 yards after six games. After a 285-yard night for the Trojans (4-2, 2-0 Region 7-3A) against White County, Rochester extended his lead substantially on the rest of the running backs in Hall County.

Against the Warriors, Rochester ripped off scoring runs of 70 and 52 yards as North Hall pulled away for a 51-20 win.

Surprisingly, Rochester (5-foot-10, 185 pounds) is not receiving any college attention for football, Trojans coach David Bishop said.

Rochester is poised to join a long list of 1,000-yard rushers with the program, likely making it happen Friday with a region contest against Lumpkin County in Dahlonega.

Bishop said that Rochester has been a great fit, filling the big spot in the backfield of Clark Howell, who topped 1,700 yards as a senior for the Trojans in 2020.

“The main thing about Kevin is he’s a kid of great character; he does what he needs to do,” Bishop said. “Running, he has deceptive speed. He doesn’t look that fast, but then you look at the clock and he’s about 4.8 (40-yard dash).

Rochester is not a newcomer to the Trojans’ backfield.

As a junior, he finished with about 900 yards on the ground — a very nice complementary back to Howell.

2. JAYQUAN SMITH, CHEROKEE BLUFF, Sr.: The most imposing and physical running back in Hall County suits up for the Bears (6-0, 2-0 Region 7-3A).

So many times this season, defenders have tried to get the 200-pound Smith to the ground, only to get run over.

Currently, Smith is second in Hall County with 790 rushing yards and 13 scores.

However, those numbers don’t do complete justice to what Smith does with the ball in his hands for the defending Region 7-3A champions.

In Week 3, Smith had a run against East Forsyth, reminiscent of Georgia Bulldogs legend Herschel Walker, where he ran through and over a handful of Broncos defenders for a long touchdown. It came just one play a similar jaw-dropping run — Smith knocking defenders over like bowling pins — only to have it called back for offensive holding.

After limited carries through the four games in the non-region portion of the schedule (43 total), Smith has seen his workload go up significantly and his individual stats skyrocket. In the region opener, Smith had 255 yards on the road against Gilmer, followed by 165 against West Hall last Friday in Flowery Branch.

The three-year starter for Cherokee Bluff is the most highly recruited, from Hall County, at his position for his God-given combination of size, strength, speed and vision.

And with a 3.8 GPA, Smith has plenty of options for the next level, including an offer from Yale.

3. NAIM CHEEKS, GAINESVILLE, Jr.: There’s really no limits to how Red Elephants coach Heath Webb can use his elusive running back.

Cheeks, a three-year starter, is a versatile speedster with good hands. 

And if he gets to the corner first without any defensive backs in the way, then it’s an almost-automatic touchdown for Cheeks.

Webb and his offensive coordinator Chad Bennett spend time finding new ways to get the ball in the hands of Cheeks, who leads Gainesville (4-2, 1-1 Region 6-7A) in rushing yards (594) and a team high in receiving yards (222).

Even at 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, Cheeks is getting ample attention from Division-I programs, Webb said.

“Naim’s the complete package in the sense he can play running back, wide receiver, linebacker and he has excellent hands, speed and vision,” Webb said. “He’s physical and tough. Naim checks all the boxes.”

In 2021, Cheeks has many outstanding plays that have left everyone shaking their heads with amazement at what they just witnessed.

One of those came in Week 5, the region opener against Forsyth Central.

On a routine screen pass from sophomore quarterback Baxter Wright, Cheeks took it toward the visitor’s sideline at City Park Stadium.

Once he was locked in, Cheeks took it all the way to the other sideline, beat all the Bulldogs’ defenders to the corner and picked up about 60 yards before being brought down.

“He’s got the ability to see everything on the field, natural instincts,” Webb said. “He finds a way to cut through a defense.”

4. MARCUS HOLMBERG, EAST HALL, Sr.: A converted defensive lineman, Holmberg has been a nice fit in the pass-first offense for the Vikings.

Through six games, Holmberg has topped 500 rushing yards, averaging more than 5 yards per attempt.

East Hall’s offense is driven by senior quarterback Clete Cooper, who is already over 1,000 yards passing and 200 rushing yards.

5. MYLES IVEY, FLOWERY BRANCH, Jr.: Ivey has started to separate himself as the leader in a backfield with significant depth.

His best games came with about 150 yards each against Dawson County and Hiram.

With five games left in the regular season, Ivey has a Falcons-best 461 yards and is second on the team with six touchdowns.

Up next, Flowery Branch (3-2, 0-1 Region 8-4A) visit North Oconee on Friday in Bogart.

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