Texas high school football has produced a lot of great running backs. In this article, we explore who was the best ever NFL running back to come out of Texas. This is judging running backs by their NFL career and not by their high school career, so high school legends like Cedric Benson and Johnathan Gray.
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Active Running Back
Adrian Peterson: Palestine High School / Palestine, Texas
Peterson played his high school ball at Palestine. He was all-state in basketball, track and football. As a Junior, he rushed for 2,051 yards on 246 carries, an average of 8.3 yards per carry, and 22 touchdowns. He topped that his Senior season, running for 2,960 yards on 252 attempts, an average of 11.7 yards per carry, and 32 touchdowns. He then went on to dominate college football in 3 years at Oklahoma.
Peterson was drafted #7 by the Minnesota Vikings. He was the NFL Rookie of the Year despite missing a few games due to a knee injury. Peterson played 10 years for the Vikings but missed almost all of two seasons. He won the 2012 NFL MVP. He is a 7 time Pro Bowl selection and made 7 All NFL Teams. Peterson also led the NFL 3 times in rushing. He has rushed for over 1,000 yards 8 times, once going over 2,000 yards. His 2,097 yards in a season is second only to Eric Dickerson’s 2,105. He has gone on to play for a few more teams and is currently with the Detroit Lions. He is currently 5th on the all-time rushing list with over 14,500 yards, 700 behind Barry Sanders.
Hall of Fame Running Back
Doak Walker: Highland Park High School / University Park, Texas
Walker played high school ball at Highland Park with Bobby Layne. Together they made it to the state championship. Walker was a 5 sport star in high school. After some time in the Marines, he went on to play college ball. He then went on to SMU where he had a stellar career and won the 1948 Heisman Trophy. He is considered by some as the best college running back ever to play.
Walker was drafted third in the 1949 NFL Draft by the Boston Yanks but was traded to the Detroit Lions. He was reunited with fellow Texan Bobby Layne. He put up over 1,200 total yards as a rookie and was First Team All-Pro. He was all-pro in his second season too. In his third and fourth seasons, he helped lead Detroit to back-to-back NFL Championships. Walker played only 5 seasons in the NFL because he had multiple business interests that paid significantly more. He made the pro-bowl in all 5 seasons and was first-team all-pro 4 times. When he retired, he was third all-time in points scored, despite only playing 5 years.
Earl Campbell: John Tyler High School / Tyler, Texas
Nicknamed “the Tyler rose,” Campbell played high school football for John Tyler. He led them to the 4A Texas State Championship, which was then the largest classification in Texas. He was named, “Mr. Football USA,” making him the best high school player in the nation. He had a legendary career for the Texas Longhorns in which he won the 1977 Heisman Trophy.
Campbell was drafted #1 overall in the 1978 NFL Draft by the Houston Oilers. He was given a rookie record-breaking (at the time) 6-year 1.4 million dollar contract. He led the NFL in rushing as a rookie and won the NFL MVP. He won the AP NFL Player of the Year in his second season, a year in which he rushed for over 100 yards 11 times. His best season came in 1980 in which he rushed for 1,934 yards in 15 games. Injuries limited Campbell to playing 10 or more games just 6 times in his career, but he rushed for over 1,000 yards in 5 of them. He was a 5 time Pro Bowl selection and 3-time First-Team All-Pro. He led the league in rushing 3 times and was AP Offensive Player of the Year 3 times.
Eric Dickerson: Sealy High School / Sealy, Texas
Dickerson played at Sealy. He led them to a 15-0 record and the State Championship in 1978. In the title game, he ran for 296 yards and 4 touchdowns. He also won state titles in the 100 and 200 yards in track. He played college football at Southern Methodist University in which he broke all of Earl Campbells conference rushing records and led the “Pony Express,” with Craig James.
Dickerson was selected second overall in the 1983 NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Rams. He rushed for 1,808 yards as a rookie, breaking all rookie records. He was All-Pro, a Pro Bowler, Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year. He rushed for over 2,000 yards in his second season. He set the all-time single-season rushing record with 2,105 yards (though he played 2 more games than O.J. Simpson) and ran for over 100 yards 12 times. He ran for over 1,200 yards his first 7 seasons. He was a 5 time First-Team All-Pro and made 6 Pro Bowls. He led the NFL in rushing 4 times. He reached 10,000 rushing yards the fastest in NFL history, 91 games. It took Emmit Smith 106 games, Barry Sanders 103 games and Jim Brown 98 games.
Thurman Thomas: Willowridge High School / Houston, Texas
Thurman Thomas played high school football at Willowridge and led them to a state championship. He then went to Oklahoma State in which he played with Barry Sanders his last two seasons. He got plenty of carries and led the Big 8 in rushing twice. After an injury his junior season, he started his Senior year and carried the ball 897 times for 1,613 yards.
Thurman Thomas had a second knee injury which caused him to slip to the second round of the NFL Draft in which he was selected by the Buffalo Bills. Though often overshadowed by Barry Sanders and Emmit Smith, Thomas had an outstanding career. He helped lead the Bills to the Super Bowl 4 times. He was the 1991 NFL MVP. He is the only running back in NFL history to lead the league in all-purpose yards four consecutive seasons. He made 5 All-Pro teams and 5 Pro Bowls.
LaDainian Tomlinson: University High School / Waco Texas
LaDainian Tomlinson, aka “LT” played high school football at University High School. In his senior season, he rushed for 2,554 yards and 39 touchdowns. He then went on to start at TCU. In 1999 at TCU against UTEP, he ran for 406 yards.
Tomlinson was drafted fifth in the 2001 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers. In each of his first 7 seasons, he ran for over 1,200 yards and had over 50 receptions. In 2003, he became the first player ever to have over 100 receptions and rush for over 1,000 yards. He is the fastest ever player to reach 100 touchdowns, passing Jim Brown. He was the 2006 NFL MVP, made 5 Pro Bowl teams, and 6 All-Pro teams. He is 7th all-time in rushing yards and second in rushing touchdowns.