Underclassmen Byers, Martin and Gray Led a Group of Strong South Jersey Running Backs

by Marc Narducci; Photo Marc Narducci | Dec 21, 2018
Underclassmen Byers, Martin and Gray Led a Group of Strong South Jersey Running Backs

What a year it was for running backs in South Jersey and what is most impressive is that some of the top backs will be retuning next season.

Two running backs, Jada Byers of St. Joseph and Johnny Martin of Highland, will be returning next season.

Neither is very big and both don’t have great size, but they are explosive players who also have the ability to run between the tackles.

Byers rushed for 1,738 yards (8.1 avg.) and 29 touchdowns. He also caught 15 passes for 353 yards and four touchdowns. Byers also scored two more touchdowns on interception returns.

Never was his receiving skill more evident than during the Wildcats 41-22 win over Holy Spirit in the state Non-Public B championship at MetLife Stadium.

In that game, Byers had two receptions for 115 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 93 yards and a TD on 20 carries.

As a sophomore, Byers was a major contributor on a 12-0 St. Joseph team that was the consensus No. 1 team in South Jersey. This past year the Wildcats went 10-2.

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The 5-9, 200-pound Martin rushed for 2,002 yards (7.6 avg.) and 19 touchdowns as Highland tied a single-season record for school wins during a 9-2 season.

Martin reached the 2,000-yard mark with a memorable Thanksgiving performance in a 20-12 win over rival Triton.

In that game he rushed for 276 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries. To show how dominant he was this season, that performance against Triton wasn’t his best of the year.

His top rushing game came in a 28-14 South Jersey Group 4 playoff win over Ocean City when Martin rushed for 319 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries.

This season he rushed for at least 200 yards in four games. After his freshman season he had picked up a scholarship offer from Baylor and there should be plenty more in the future.

Another top back was Holy Spirit’s Elijah Gray, a 5-9, 180-pound junior. Gray showed his true grit during the Spartans aforementioned loss to St. Joseph in the state championship game.

He got banged up on a few occasions, but continued to run hard and finished with 156 yards rushing on 22 carries. In fact after an injury to quarterback Ryan Yost in the third quarter, he was forced to become a wildcat quarterback.

Like Martin and Byers, Gray has good speed but also is a hard runner, able to break multiple tackles. He finished with 1,379 yards rushing and 15 TDs.

None of these three players have great size but their toughness is among the best in South Jersey.

There will be other top running backs who emerge next season in South Jersey, but this trio will lead the way.

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Author: Marc Narducci; Photo by Marc Narducci


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