Arkansas Boasts Long Tradition Of Producing Quality Running Backs

by Evin Demirel  on Monday, Jul. 16, 2012 12:00 am  

This story is from the archives of

Basil Shabazz (6-0, 190)
Pine Bluff, Class of 1991
High school highlights: 1990 — 1,596 yards, 28 touchdowns, 7.6 yards per carry.
College Choice: Played professional baseball, then UAPB

These days, the question “What if?” seems to be entangled in so much of Shabazz’s legacy.What if he could have played college football immediately after high school instead of choosing (and struggling through) pro baseball? What if, along that path, he hadn’t been caught with a handgun and marijuana while visiting friends at UCA?

Instead of dwelling on what Shabazz wasn’t, let’s look at what he was: the greatest athlete in Arkansas prep history. And of the four sports he seemed to effortlessly dominate, football was where his potential most tantalized.A year after rushing for 782 yards, all the pieces seemed to come together Shabazz’s senior season. He blended the record-shattering track speed, the field awareness and the power, saving his best for the 4A state final against Texarkana, which entered 13-0 while allowing 4.2 points per game. Shabazz rushed for 171 yards and five touchdowns on 20 carries, throwing in a 77-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

Wadie Moore, who covered prep sports for decades for the Arkansas Gazette, said Shabazz’s elusiveness made him the best running back he ever covered.

Jerry Eckwood (6-0, 200 pounds)
Brinkley, Class of 1974
High school highlights: 1973 — 2,616 yards, 33 touchdowns, 10 yards per carry; career — 5,215 yards and 67 touchdowns.
College choice: Arkansas

Eckwood was likely the first blue chip recruit to command the attention of the entire state of Arkansas. Moore, the longtime Gazette sportswriter, said Eckwood was the second-best Arkansas prep running back he covered.

Part of Eckwood’s success came from his love of lifting weights, a far cry from Shabazz, who relied on natural strength, Moore said. Eckwood led his senior team to the 2A state finals, where it lost to Morrilton 16-6.

Injuries hurt Eckwood’s career at Arkansas. A back injury sidelined him as a freshman, but he bounced back as a sophomore. For a five-game, early-season stretch with the Razorbacks, Eckwood ran for 727 yards and averaged 9.2 yards per carry. But he severely injured his knee soon afterward and would not regain his elite speed again as a Razorback.

Cedric Cobbs (6-0, 225 pounds)
Little Rock Fair, Class of 1999
High school highlights: 1998 — 2,043 yards, 15 touchdowns, 13 yards per carry; career — 4,631 yards, 43 touchdowns, 10.5 yards per carry
College Choice: Arkansas

In some ways, Cobbs’ career echoes Eckwood’s, with less success at the pro level but more in high school and college.Cobbs set a record for per-carry average at the state’s highest classification that may never fall. He also helped Fair beat Cabot 41-0 for the state title.

At Arkansas, Cobbs delivered on high expectations with a freshman single-season rushing record. Cobbs was described by ESPN: The Magazine as “ “the most dynamic running back to hit the SEC since Bo Jackson.” But, similar to Eckwood, injuries soon derailed things: a severe shoulder separation in 2000, a pulled hamstring and strained back in 2001 and a sprained toe a year later.Cobbs finished his college career with an All-SEC performance and stands as the Hogs’ fourth all-time leading rusher.

Jim Pace (6-0, 194 pounds)
Dunbar High, Class of 1954
High school highlights: Comprehensive statistics, if recorded, have been lost for many all-black schools of the pre-integration era.
College choice: Michigan

Cobbs first made a name for himself at Dunbar Junior High, the same site where 40 years earlier Jim Pace became one of the most celebrated black athletes of the pre-integration era.



Please read our comments policy before commenting.