Editor’s note: This summer, Star columnist Greg Hansen is counting down the top 10 of just about everything related to Tucson sports.
Today’s list: the top 10 running backs from Tucson.
From 1980-2000, Tucson was Running Backs Central. It would be difficult to believe any one position, in any Tucson sport, produced more top college prospects than running backs over those three decades.
Sunnyside’s Fred Sims was offered scholarships by Oklahoma, Texas, Nebraska and Arizona. Coaches from ASU, bent on recruiting their next star tailback, slept in their automobiles outside the home of Cholla running back Vance Johnson.
In 1980, the Star’s All-City team included Sims, who played at Oklahoma; Johnson, who became an All-Pac-10 tailback at Arizona; and Sunnyside’s David Adams, who led the Pac-10 in rushing at Arizona in 1986.
And then along came all-state tailbacks like Jon Volpe of Amphitheater, Chris Hopkins of Salpointe, Kevin Schmidtke of Mountain View, Nathan Wize of Sabino and, of course, Michael and Mario Bates of Amphi, who were Parade All-Americans.
Who was the best? You’ll never get a unanimous answer. There was simply too much talent.
The running backs of the last 40 years can trace their Tucson roots back to Tucson High’s Hayzel Daniels, who set a state record that stood for more than 50 years, rushing for 301 yards against Bisbee in a 1925 game and was generally acknowledged as the best in Arizona until Tucson High’s Joel Favara led the Badgers to an undefeated state title in 1952.
Favara scored 33 touchdowns in his final two seasons at THS, and was the state MVP in 1952, gaining 913 during an era when 913 yards is like 2,000 yards today. Favara chose Oklahoma State over offers from many Western powers.
After Favara left Tucson, the Badgers deployed Art Acosta, who left school with 2,003 rushing yards, then a state record. He signed with Michigan State.
The excellence of Tucson running backs has not abated. Sunnyside’s Philo Sanchez gained 4,839 yards as the Blue Devils won a state championship and, of course, Canyon del Oro’s Ka’Deem Carey broke all the records from 2007-10, gaining 5,709 yards.
Here’s my attempt to put the 10 leading running backs in Tucson history in proper order: