Any great sports debate begins with a difference of opinion. Athletes from the current generation are compared with those who played before them, and fans take sides on who is the best they've ever seen play. With that in mind, leading up to the start of another football season, the Times Free Press sports staff is releasing lists of 13 for 2013.
Appearing in the Tuesday and Friday editions each week, they list alphabetically the top 13 area players at each position, and readers can cast their votes to rank those players.
So who are the area's best players at each position? You help us decide. Taking into account not only their prep careers but also college and any professional achievements, today we present our list of running backs.
Rodney Ballard (East Ridge, Tennessee) -- He ran for more than 600 yards in his first two games as a Pioneers senior and was considered one of the state's top prospects. His college career never panned out.
Frahn D'Anjou (Baylor, Mississippi State/UTC) -- He held the city's career rushing record with 3,867 yards, topping the 1,000-yard mark each of his last three seasons at Baylor.
Demetrius Fields (Cleveland) -- He was a USA Today All-American, a 1999 state Mr. Football winner and the state's top running back prospect after gaining nearly 2,000 yards.
Patrick Flanagan (Ooltewah, UTC) -- He set city records for single-season and career rushing yards and was a two-time all-state player, also becoming a finalist for the state's Mr. Football award. He ran for 5,377 career yards, including 1,700 as a senior. He ran for 332 yards and four TDs and threw for another TD in one game in 1999.
Leon Hardeman (LaFayette/Baylor) -- He was all-state in Georgia and Tennessee as a prepster in the 1940s before going on to a stellar career at Georgia Tech. A member of the 1952 national champions, he rushed for 1,800 yards and 22 touchdowns, earning All-America honors, and was named the 1953 Sugar Bowl MVP. He is a member of four halls of fame: Greater Chattanooga, Baylor, Georgia Tech and the state of Georgia.
Bobby Hoppe (Central, Auburn, NFL) -- He played on Auburn's 1957 unbeaten national championship team and was a third-round draft selection by San Francisco.
Gary Meadows (Meigs County, UTC) -- A 200-pound runner with speed and shifty hips, he also was a terrific kick and punt returner and is the state's leader in single-season all-purpose yards with 3,630 yards in 1993. He also led the state in scoring that year with 42 TDs and averaged 8.8 yards per carry. becoming a Mr. Football finalist. He gained 7,995 total yards in his career, second-most in state history.
Eddie Moore (South Pittsburg, Tennessee, NFL) -- He rushed for more than 1,900 yards and 30 TDs his junior season and followed by gaining more than 2,100 yards and 43 TDs his senior season, leading the state in scoring both years and becoming a Mr. Football finalist. He's still the area's single-season scoring leader and was an All-SEC linebacker at UT and the first pick by the Miami Dolphins.
Eddie Prokop (Baylor, Georgia Tech, NFL) -- He ran for 199 yards and three TDs and kicked two extra points in the 1944 Sugar Bowl, finished fifth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy in 1943 and was the fourth overall pick in the 1945 NFL draft. He was inducted into Georgia Tech's Hall of Fame.
Gerald Riggs Jr. (Red Bank, Tennessee, CFL) -- He led the Lions as a junior to their only state title, won consecutive Mr. Football awards and was the top-rated back in the nation as a senior. He ran for 6,046 career yards and 90 TDs and later became a 1,000-yard rusher at UT. He helped win a Grey Cup title last year.
Hubert Simpson (McMinn County, Tennessee) -- He may be known best for outplaying Notre Dame's Vegas Davis when the Vols beat the Irish in 1979, scoring four TDs that day.
Gary Tucker (Brainerd, Vanderbilt, UTC, NFL) -- One of the best ever to play at Brainerd, he was a fifth-round draft selection by the Miami Dolphins.
Eric Westmoreland (Marion County, Tennessee, NFL) -- He won every prep award the state offers, including Mr. Football and Lawrenceburg Quarterback Club player of the year, and was a two-time state championship game MVP. He ran for 2,359 yards and 40 TDs as a senior and finished with more than 6,000 yards and 85 TDs in his career. He led Marion to a 56-1 career record and three state titles. He later was part of two SEC and one national title and played in the NFL for five years.
Before he began breaking tackles and outrunning area defenders, Frahn D'Anjou's first step to becoming one of Chattanooga's most accomplished high school running backs was as simple as A-B-C.
"My mother had an alphabetical list of potential boarding schools, and it just so happened that Baylor was the first one she came across that caught her eye," D'Anjou, a native of Mississippi, recalled recently. "I heard for years that I had been recruited to go there, but that wasn't the case at all. She liked everything she read and saw about the campus, so we reached out to Baylor. It was just that easy. My mom found it on a list, and once we saw the school, we knew that's where I would go.
"I went on to play at two different levels in college, but I've always said I would put my coaches at Baylor up against any level. They would have us so prepared, we knew what to do down to every detail. I still keep up with Baylor online during the season, and I'm proud of what the program has accomplished lately. It's exciting because I still love my school."
D'Anjou became a three-year starter for Baylor at both running back and linebacker, gaining more than 1,000 yards each season as the Red Raiders reached the state playoffs all three years, including a run to the quarterfinals in 1993 before falling to nationally ranked Knoxville Central. He held the city's career rushing record for nearly 10 years with 3,867 yards and later played for one season at Mississippi State before finishing his career at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga.
D'Anjou earned a place on the Times Free Press's list of the area's top 13 running backs of all time, joining the likes of Central's Bobby Hoppe, Red Bank's Gerald Riggs Jr. and Marion County's Eric Westmoreland. Hoppe helped Auburn win a national championship in 1957, Riggs was the nation's top-rated prep running back prospect as a senior and Westmoreland is the most decorated back in area history, leading the Warriors to a 56-1 career record and three state titles, before helping Tennessee's Volunteers win a national title and playing for six seasons in the NFL.
D'Anjou met the woman who became his wife on a business cruise, and they have lived the past eight years in New York, where he owns one restaurant and is an executive with a hospitality business. He owns another restaurant in Mississippi, and the couple have a 2-year-old daughter.
"It's good when you finally have kids and you can start to tell them about some of the things you did," D'Anjou said. "My wife came with me a few years ago when Baylor had my Hall of Fame induction, and she noticed how people would say a quick congratulations about us owning a restaurant or how well our business was doing, but they wouldn't stop talking about what I did as a high school football player. That trumped everything else.
"She was shocked by the amount of attention and how much people remembered about me playing football so many years ago. I just explained to her how important football is in that area. For me, it's a good feeling to know people recognize what I did 20 years ago and that my career is still remembered."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.