Mansfield ISD building a powerful reputation for running backs

Like the rest of his Iowa teammates, Damon Bullock was locked down in his hotel room on the night before another big college game.

Most of the Hawkeyes passed the time by watching TV, listening to music and playing on computers. Bullock had a specific goal when he opened his laptop. He wanted to know the Mansfield score.

"I followed them through their playoff run, and when I'm in the hotels on Fridays, I always keep updating the score on dfwVarsity," said Bullock, a sophomore running back from Mansfield High. "It's a brotherhood."

That brotherhood runs deep. Bullock is not the only former Mansfield running back checking on his high school. At least nine running backs from Mansfield's high schools are on college rosters, a staggering number for one school district.

"We had a great coaching system coming up from middle school through high school," said Stanford senior Stepfan Taylor, who was born and raised in Mansfield and played for Mansfield High. "They taught me great schemes and how to be a runner. It's a good thing that so many running backs come out of Mansfield. We are proud of it."

Still, Bullock can't explain the phenomenon.

"I don't know why we have so many running backs," Bullock said. "We all know each other. We know there are a lot of talented players in Mansfield, and we always competed every Friday night when we were all in high school there. Somehow, a lot of us made it."

While the running backs will always be connected because of their hometown, they still carry competition over to the college game. Each wants his high school to beat cross-town rivals as well as make a name for himself for his team.

"I think running backs are some of the most competitive athletes out there," Taylor said. "You play for yourself, family and teammates first. And then, you play for your hometown. All of us want to put Mansfield on the map."

As Taylor and Bullock make headlines out of state, Texas Tech's Eric Stephens, a senior from Timberview, makes his impact instate.

Stephens, who returned after dislocating his knee in 2011, already has three rushing touchdowns this season and his name is all over the Tech record books for all-purpose yardage and kickoff returns.

Taylor is one of the most accomplished of the group. He had 153 rushing yards and 60 yards receiving to go with two touchdowns in Stanford's 21-14 upset win against No. 2 USC on Sept. 15. He's also on some Heisman Trophy watch lists.

Just like the Mansfield products keep track of their former schools and teammates, the Mansfield coaches follow the players they helped earn scholarships.

"Me and my wife stayed up 'til 10:30 watching that Stanford-USC game," Mansfield High coach Jeff Hulme said. "As coaches, anytime our former players are on TV, we want to see them play. I was yelling at the TV for Stanford to give Stepfan the ball more. We were going crazy cheering for him. Iowa is on a lot, because of the Big Ten, so I follow all of those games."

In addition to Bullock and Taylor, three more college running backs were Mansfield Tigers -- sophomore Garrett Graham at Texas A&M, senior Terrell Douglas at Houston and senior Donovan Roberts at Angelo State. Roberts began his career at New Mexico State before transferring to Angelo State.

Some other notable MISD running backs include Legacy’s DaCarlos Humphrey at Nebraska-Kearney, Summitt’s Lewis Washington at Southeast Missouri State and Summitt’s Calvin Burns at West Texas A&M.

Bullock had little college interest entering his senior season but picked up an offer from Iowa after a strong final high school season.

This season, he has shown signs of becoming a prolific running back. He rushed for 151 yards and a touchdown in Iowa's opening win against Northern Illinois and had 281 yards through four games.

"I knew Damon was going to be a great player watching him my senior year," Taylor said. "I saw that he had a great Week One this season and I check out Iowa's box scores to see how he did. I am really proud of him."

Mansfield High's current tailback, senior Kenneth Burks, is on a path similar to Bullock's.

"Kenneth has an unbelievable work ethic. He didn't miss a single day of workouts over the summer," Hulme said. "He is a very strong runner, and he's extremely hard to bring down. He's not a big player, but he has a lot of strength and speed. I think his recruitment will pick up over the course of the season."

Hulme said recruiters are attracted to area running backs because of their athleticism and because they see first-rate competition in high school that prepares them for the next level.

He has watched the college trends swing to more emphasis on quarterbacks and the passing attack and back now to more balance with power running games.

"Tailbacks are starting to come back into play a bit now," Hulme said. "Everything goes in cycles. I think this area is starting to get a reputation for producing running backs."

A run on running backs

A lot of college-caliber running backs have come out of the Mansfield schools recently. Here's a look at a few on 2012 NCAA football rosters around the country:


Stepfan Taylor




Damon Bullock




Eric Stephens


Texas Tech


Garrett Graham


Texas A&M


Terrell Douglas




Lewis Washington


SE Missouri St.


DaCarlos Humphrey




Calvin Burns


W.Texas A&M


Donovan Roberts


Angelo State