Last season, Mars’ Teddy Ruffner topped California’s Jaedan Zuzak for the rushing crown after California’s final game of the regular season against Monessen was a forfeit. With numerous cancellations and a shortened season due to COVID, only 11 players topped the 1000-yard mark on the ground. Beaver Falls’ Josh Hough, who finished the season with the most yards after the playoffs, averaged an incredible 17 yards per carry while leading Beaver Falls to the WPIAL 2A title.
Seven of the top ten rushers from last season graduated, leaving the race for this year’s rushing crown wide open. Typically the winner of the rushing title relies on a combination of factors: pedigree, volume, and opposition. At least the last ten WPIAL rushing champions have all run for at least 1000 yards in the year prior, though that may change in 2021 due to the shortened 2020 season where only 11 players broke the 1000-yard mark.
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Here is a look at the top contenders for the WPIAL rushing crown. Players are listed in alphabetical order. Of note, their rushing stats from last year are full season statistics, which include both regular season and playoff outings. Typically the “Rushing Champion” is the player with the most regular season yards. Don’t forget to check out our WPIAL Blitz Season Preview Shows and bookmark our WPIAL Standings Page for once the season starts!
Landon Alexander (Central Valley)
2020 Stats: 1443 yards, 17 TDs
Career Stats: 1761 yards, 19 TDs
Central Valley has won the last two WPIAL titles and reached the State Championship game in both seasons. The Warriors won their first state title in school history last year. Alexander was a big part of that group, leading Central Valley in rushing while averaging 10.8 yards per carry. This season, Central Valley will have to find a replacement for 3A Player of the Year Ameer Dudley at quarterback and replace 4 of their top 6 receivers. All this adds up to is increased touches for Alexander in the rushing game. With his home-run-hitting abilities, Alexander should absolutely break 1000 yards again this season. The only question mark to his ability to challenge for the rushing crown would be if Central Valley is mercy ruling so many opponents this season (as they did last year) that he doesn’t get many second half touches.
Colin Brady (West Greene)
2020 Stats: 823 yards, 11 TDs
Is Colin Brady the next great West Greene running back? Two years ago Ben Jackson broke the WPIAL single-season rushing record with over 3000 yards. It took Jackson until midway through his senior season to break Rodney Wilson’s school record for career yards (6,304 from 1990-93). Colin Brady is only a sophomore but already has 823 yards and 11 TDs on his resume after averaging 9.4 yards per carry as a freshman. He may not win the WPIAL rushing title this season, but with the soft defenses in the Tri-County South, he is a name to know for years to come.
Luke McCoy (Laurel)
2020 Stats: 1039 yards, 11 TDs
Career Stats: 2115 yards, 25 TDs
Laurel has traditionally been a run-heavy squad, and McCoy led the way with a 1000-yard season as a junior. He ran for 8.7 yards per carry and found the end zone 11 times. Now, returning for his senior season, McCoy is primed for a dominant campaign. Word out of Laurel is that they are looking to move away from their traditional ground-and-pound offense towards a spread passing game, but with a talent like McCoy in the backfield, he is sure to get his share of carries.
Devin Whitlock (Belle Vernon)
2020 Stats: 1092 yards, 15 TDs
Whitlock is the only quarterback appearing on this list. After starting his freshman year at Monessen, he transferred to Belle Vernon and blossomed. As a sophomore, Whitlock was used in both the running game and passing game, accounting for over 800 yards of total offense and 10 total TDs. Last year he took over the starting quarterback position and proved to be a dual-threat player, rushing for over 1000 yards and throwing for over 500 yards. This year, Belle Vernon also has a rising star in sophomore RB Quinton Martin, who will share the workload in the backfield with Whitlock. That said, Devin Whitlock is an electrifying talent and one of the most exciting players with the ball in his hands in the entire WPIAL.
Cade Yacamelli (Penn-Trafford)
2020 Stats: 680 yards, 10 TDs
Career Stats: 889 yards, 16 TDs
Yacamelli is a Wisconsin-commit who will take on the feature back role in Penn-Trafford’s offense. The Warriors have some talent on the line in front of him to clear the road. After averaging 8.7 yards per carry last year, Yacamelli should see his workload increase in 2021. Last season, he split carries with dual-threat QB Ethan Carr nearly evenly (Carr had 77 carries and Yacamelli had 78). This season, with Penn-Trafford working in a new quarterback, Yacamelli should see the lion’s share of the offensive workload.
Conner Murga (Thomas Jefferson) – Murga led the Jaguars in rushing last year en route to winning their second straight WPIAL and PIAA 4A titles. He is one of the only returning offensive starters for Thomas Jefferson this season and will see a lot of work as their new starters step into their roles.
Braylan Lovelace (Leechburg) – It has been 33 years since Leechburg last made the playoffs in 1988. But after putting together competitive seasons in the 1A Eastern Conference, the Blue Devils will look to snap that streak this season. (I predicted they WILL.) Lovelace led the team in rushing (983 yards), receiving (27 receptions for 325 yards) and scoring (13 total TDs) last season. He is a talented player and as Leechburg works in a new quarterback, they will likely give Lovelace plenty of carries.
Denny Robinson and Sal Laure (Rochester) – Rochester has traditionally run a ground-and-pound offensive attack. Last year the Rams had three running backs over 500 yards, all of whom averaged at least 6 yards per carry. Two of them – Denny Robinson (914 yards, 12 TDs) and Sal Laure (568 yards, 10 TDs) return this season. They will likely share the workload in the backfield for the Rams, so it might be difficult for one individually to win the rushing title, but they are one of the most dynamic backfield duos in the WPIAL. Both should threaten the 1000-yard mark this season.
Landan Stevenson (Mapletown) – Another Tri-County South contender for the rushing crown. A few years ago Mapletown’s Dylan Rush (arguably the best name ever for a running back) compiled over 5000 yards in his career, including a WPIAL record 524 yards in one game. Stevenson ran for 939 yards and 12 TDs last year as a sophomore. With experience under his belt and a schedule of games against defenses that allow a lot of yards, he could be a threat to the WPIAL rushing crown this season.
Header image source: Landon Alexander’s Hudl page