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2017 Football Preview: Top 10 running backs

Maine South's Fotis Kokosioulis (41) tries to avoid a tackle by Loyola's Mickey Kane (49) during the second quarter of the IHSA Class 8A high school championship football game, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016, at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/Bradley Leeb)

Maine South’s smart and slippery Fotis Kokosioulis leads the way as the area’s top running back. Two juniors, Justin Jett of St. Charles East and Jack Jessen of Willowbrook, cracked the list.

1. Fotis Kokosioulis, Maine South, Sr., RB (5-9, 170): Last season Kokosioulis produced 25 plays of 25 yards or more and he’s primed to put up big numbers for the defending Class 8A state champions. The NIU recruit averaged nearly nine yards a carry, ran for 1,464 yards and was scored 29 touchdowns. He’s a back you can count on.

2. Reggie Phillips, Batavia, Sr., RB (5-10, 155): Phillips ran for 1,093 yards and nine touchdowns last season. He averaged more than six yards a carry. A smooth strider who is quick on his feet, it’s his footwork that sets him apart. Has potential for a breakout year for the Bulldogs.

3. A.J. Deinhart, Naperville Central, Sr., RB (5-9, 185): An all-conference selection as a junior, his separation speed is the standout piece of his game. Deinhart knows how to make people miss. He has a chance to be a difference maker on a team poised for a rebound season.

4. Justin Jett, St. Charles East, Jr., RB (6-0, 210): Jett gained 1,020 yards on 160 carries, averaging 6.3 yards a carry as a sophomore for the Saints. A first team all-conference selection, Jett is a reliable option who has a second gear from the fullback position.

5. Jack Jessen, Willowbrook, Jr., RB (5-11, 195): An athlete who does it all, Jessen helped Willowbrook reach the Class 7A quarterfinals with 1,671 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns. He is a good-sized back that is also a standout wrestling recruit committed to Northwestern.

6. Justin Hall, Homewood-Flossmoor, Sr., RB (5-10, 185): Hall has game-changing quickness. Last season he was a jack-of-all-trades for the Vikings. Hall played running back, receiver and defensive back. With a first year quarterback at the helm for the Vikings, expect Hall to play a major role in the offense.

7. Anthony Martin, Lemont, Sr., RB (5-11, 200): Martin is a bruiser who uses his strength and size well on the field. Last season he rushed for 830 yards on 150 carries and scored eight touchdowns. The standout back has a knack for finding space and was integral in the Indians run to the Class 6A quarterfinals.

8. Hamid Bullie, Loyola, Sr., RB (5-11, 190): A three-year varsity player, Bulie has good straight-line speed and footwork. He finds holes well, even against good competition. Bullie was injured in October but when he is back healthy he will be one of the best backs in the area.

9. Chris Childers, St. Rita, Sr., RB (5-11, 190): Childers makes good cuts and has big play capability. Last season he carried the ball 69 times for 649 yards. He has a no holds barred attitude with the ball and is also a threat as a receiver.

10. Dakari Smith, Hillcrest, Sr., RB (5-10, 185): An all-conference selection as a junior, Smith has nice size and speed. One of the assets that sets him apart is his ability to lower his shoulder and not shy away from contact. Hillcrest was 8-3 last year and should be a major threat this season with Smith leading the charge.

This is the sixth story in the Sun-Times 2017 Football Countdown series. Here’s what you can expect over the next couple weeks:

Aug. 14: No. 5 Lyons

Aug. 15: Top 10 defensive players

Aug. 16: No. 4 Waubonsie Valley

Aug. 17: Top 10 receivers

Aug. 18: No. 3 Loyola

Aug. 19: Top 10 running backs

Aug. 20: No. 2 Maine South

Aug. 21: Top 10 quarterbacks

Aug. 22: No. 1 Prairie Ridge

Aug. 23: Week 1’s top games

Aug. 24: A capsule look at the Super 25, Top 50 players