Some of the most outstanding performers in the history of the sport got their start playing high school football in Texas. That tradition is especially rich at the running back position, where the state has produced several all-time special athletes. Some of them went on to win Heisman trophies, others had prestigious awards named after them and some even played in the NFL and became Pro Football Hall of Famers.
Here are 10 of the greatest high school running backs in Texas history. All high school stats are courtesy of MaxPreps.
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Earl Campbell - Tyler
Campbell’s Senior season in high school was his first as a running back but he hit the ground running, totaling 2,036 yards and 29 touchdowns and leading his team to a perfect 15-0 record and a state championship. Later, Campbell won the Heisman Trophy his Senior year at Texas. Soon after, the Houston Oilers picked him No. 1 overall in the NFL draft and he went on to make five Pro Bowl teams, earn three All-Pro honors and lead the NFL in rushing yards three different times. Campbell peaked as the league MVP in 1979 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1991.
Adrian Peterson - Palestine
AD dominated from the start, winning the Hall Trophy as the top high school football player in the country. While he didn’t win the Heisman in college he did manage 4,041 rushing yards and 41 touchdowns during his time at Oklahoma. From there it was on to the NFL, where the Minnesota Vikings picked him at No. 7 overall in the 2008 draft. Peterson won Rookie of the Year, made seven Pro Bowl Teams, earned four All-Pro honors and was the last non-quarterback to win the league MVP award in 2012. Peterson did not play this past season but is a lock for the Hall of Fame.
Eric Dickerson - Sealy
Dickerson finished his high school career red hot, totaling 2,001 rushing yards as a junior and 2,642 more as a senior. In college Dickerson peaked his junior year, posting 1,428 yards and 19 touchdowns and finishing third in Heisman voting. Next, he was picked second overall in the 1983 NFL draft by the LA Rams. Dickerson made five All-Pro teams, six Pro Bowls and led the league in rushing yards four times. He was named to the Hall of Fame in 1999.
Billy Sims - Hooks
Sims led the state in rushing yards in both his Junior (3,080) and Senior (2,885) years and finished with 7,738 total rushing yards in his HS career. Sims also won the Heisman trophy during his Junior year at Oklahoma, having totaled 1,896 yards and 22 touchdowns. The Detroit Lions made Sims the first overall pick in the 1980 draft. He won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award that year and went on to make three Pro Bowl teams.
Ken Hall - Sugar Land
Long the standard for success at the high school level, Hall held the record for most career rushing yards (11,232) for more than 50 years. Hall committed to Texas A&M for college ball but never actually played. At the pro level, Hall played in the CFL for a while before stints in the NFL and the AFL, where he won a championship with the Oilers.
Cedric Benson - Midland Lee
Benson was about as successful as one can possibly be at the high school level, leading his team to a 43-3 record and three Texas state championships. In college he played at Texas, where he totaled 5,540 rushing yards and won All-American honors as a Senior. Benson was picked No. 4 overall by the Chicago Bears in the 2005 NFL draft. He went on to play eight seasons in the NFL between Chicago, Cincinnati and Green Bay.
Johnathan Gray - Aledo
Aledo had a remarkable 56-4 record while Gray was leading their rushing attack. He totaled an incredible 10,889 yards in his career went on to score 205 touchdowns, the most in state history by a wide margin. Unfortunately, Gray tore his Achilles twice playing at Texas and was unable to go pro.
Thurman Thomas - Willowridge
Thomas led Willowridge to a state championship in 1982. That year he ran for 1,556 yards and earned Parade Magazine All-American honors. In college he set a new rushing record for Oklahoma State with 4,595 total yards. The Buffalo Bills picked him in the second round of the 1988 NFL draft and he went on to have a superb pro career, earning five Pro Bowls, two All-Pro nods and playing in four straight Super Bowls. He made the Hall of Fame in 2007.
John "Booty" Johnson - Waco
This legendary Texas running back led a supremely dominant team at Waco 100 years ago. Johnson’s team went 31-1-1 and outscored their opponents by a whopping total of 1,628-37. Johnson was a big part of that success, running for 3,935 career yards and scoring 357 points. Sadly, he suffered a broken leg in high school and didn’t get to play in college or as a pro.
Robert Strait - Cuero
One of the most productive players in state history, Straight scored 127 touchdowns and racked up a total of 841 career points. As a Junior he led Cuero to a state championship in 1987. Straight played his college ball at Baylor, where he posted 1,856 yards and 32 touchdowns. He was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 1994 but never played in the NFL.