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They’re back, and they’re ready to run.

Last season, a group of young running backs put up big numbers, catching the attention of coaches and fans. This season, that experience should mean more yards, more touchdowns and more turned heads.

“Obviously, there’s some talented kids out there,” Issaquah coach Chris Bennett said. “It puts pressure on the defense.”

Running backs like Issaquah’s Jack Gellatly, O’Dea’s Myles Gaskin, Eastside Catholic’s Henry Jarvis, Marysville-Pilchuck’s Austin Joyner and Federal Way’s Chico McClatcher promise to give defenders headaches starting this week when schools across the state open their seasons. Add Bellevue’s Budda Baker — the state’s top recruit, but a player who didn’t get a lot of carries at running back despite his explosiveness — and these guys are a handful.

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The speed and talent in this year’s running-back crop forces teams to focus on stopping the run. Sometimes, Bennett said, the most defenses can hope for is slowing the back down to give themselves a chance.

“With a lot of kids, that’s easier said than done,” Bennett said.

Bennett knows what it’s like to have an unstoppable back.

Gellatly, Issaquah’s senior captain, led KingCo last season as a junior, rushing for more than 1,600 yards and 20 touchdowns.

Bennett makes no secret about getting Gellatly, whom he describes as “the complete package,” 25 to 30 touches per game.

“Give it to No. 5 for us, and you can’t go wrong,” Bennett said. “If he’s having a good year, it means we’re probably having a good year.”

For Metro League power O’Dea, the same can probably be said about Gaskin, the Irish’s star junior. O’Dea coach Monte Kohler said Gaskin and senior fullback Jack Flor have a chance to be the best tandem the Seattle school has ever had.

Metro competitor Eastside Catholic coach Jeremy Thielbahr agrees, and he has his eye on them.

“I think that’s a dynamic duo that O’Dea’s got,” Thielbahr said. “I think that’s going to be a tough one for people to stop. I’m excited for that challenge.”

But Thielbahr has a talented tandem of his own, with Jarvis and sophomore Brandon Wellington each hitting double digits in touchdowns last season. The coach plans to run the ball even more this fall.

“Handing the ball to Henry Jarvis is a safe play call and handing the ball to Brandon Wellington is a safe play call,” Thielbahr said. “When you’ve got a backfield of those two and (quarterback) Harley Kirsch, you feel pretty confident on offense.”

Arguably two of the best running backs this season will be juniors — Marysville-Pilchuck’s Joyner and Federal Way’s McClatcher.

In 2012, Joyner rushed for more than 2,000 yards. He could do it again.

His coach, Brandon Carson, said Joyner has a “combination of some fairly elite skills” that not many people have.

“He can run by you and through you,” Carson said. “He’s the perfect storm.”

And what’s a good storm without some lightning?

McClatcher is the SPSL 4A’s force of nature. Issaquah’s Bennett calls the Federal Way back “electric.”

“He’s as fast as we’ve seen,” Bennett said. “Any time he touches the ball, he can go the distance.”

Like Joyner, McClatcher’s elusiveness makes him fun to watch — unless you’re a defender.

“He could make you miss in a phone booth,” Federal Way coach John Meagher said.

While 2013 should be a big year for Western Washington running backs, only a few seniors appear on this list of elite talent, so who knows?

Maybe 2014 will be just as good.

Best of the backs
Here’s a look at the wealth of running back talent in Western Washington this year:
Player Year School
Austin Joyner Jr. Marysville-Pilchuck
Henry Jarvis Sr. Eastside Catholic
Brandon Wellington So. Eastside Catholic
Jack Gellatly Sr. Issaquah
Myles Gaskin Jr. O’Dea
Jack Flor Sr. O’Dea
Chico McClatcher Jr. Federal Way
Budda Baker Sr. Bellevue
Conner Baumann Sr. Newport
Colin Cossette Sr. Kennedy Catholic
Drew Lewis Sr. Eastlake
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