Who Was the Best Back? : Orange County's Veteran Prep Coaches Offer Some Suggestions

Times Staff Writer

Myron White or Willie Gittens? Kerwin Bell or Isaac Curtis? Who was the best high school running back to ever play in Orange County. Here's what some veteran coaches had to say:

Tom Baldwin, currently at Costa Mesa who coached Curtis at Santa Ana High: "Isaac Curtis is the best running back to ever play in Orange County. He never got the recognition because he played on such a great team his senior season. In 1967, we beat Newport Harbor, 52-0, and he rushed three times for 12 yards. He could have gained 500 yards in that game.

"I don't think he carried the ball more than 15 times in the second half his entire senior year. He didn't make first team, All-CIF his senior year because he only had about 1,600 yards that year. If I would have let him carry the ball 25 times a game, he would have gained 7,000 yards in his career. I saw Kerwin Bell, Myron White and Willie Gittens and none of them could compare with Isaac. He weighed 190 pounds and ran a 9.2 in the 100 in his freshman season at Cal. No running back in this area has combined the size with the speed like Isaac."

Herb Hill, dean of the county coaches, in his 24th season at Loara: "In the '60s, it seemed like Santa Ana was producing great running backs every season. They had Harvey Haddix, Eddie Steward and then Isaac Curtis. All three of them were real good, but Curtis was the best of the bunch.

"We played against Willie Gittens in his first varsity game as a sophomore. We didn't know what hit us. Our guys couldn't keep up with him. I asked their coaches where they had been hiding this kid, and they told me he had just turned 15.

"Kerwin Bell was a great one, but he also had a great supporting cast. That Edison team with Bell, Frank Seurer and Mark Boyer was a great team.

"Ray Pallares is a very steady, durable runner, but I couldn't compare him to Kerwin Bell or Willie Gittens. He's very steady, very durable and he's had the luxury of playing with some good offensive linemen."

Bob Rau, La Habra: "Myron White was a great, great, great high school running back. It's such a shame he didn't play college football. I saw him make a 10-yard run for a touchdown against Burroughs (Burbank) in the playoffs one year that was the greatest run I've ever seen.

"He must have broken 10 to 12 tackles on the play. Defenders were getting second and third shots at him, and he wouldn't go down. I've never seen a run like that. He also had a great fullback (Wilbert Haslip) blocking for him."

Bob Lester, El Modena: "Kerwin Bell was the best. He had great acceleration and great moves. He also played on a great team. We never played against Myron White or Willie Gittens, and if we don't play them, I don't notice them. Edison also had a fullback named (Dave) Geroux who was the toughest runner I've ever seen. He didn't have a lot of moves, but he was punishing."

Tim Devaney, Sunny Hills: "Myron White was a devasting runner. We played against him twice in the Freeway League. He saw the seam and then exploded. He was the classic, slashing-type runner. Ray Pallares is a methodical runner who gets his yardage no matter what. He's had a good supporting cast, and you'll find that any record-breaking player is surrounded with good players."

Ted Mullen, Foothill: "I don't think there's been anybody better than Myron White. He was a great, breakaway runner. I've been fortunate to have some very durable backs in Bruce BenBen and Mark Templeton. Neither had the classic, USC tailback speed. But they both averaged over 30 carries per game, and we won a lot of games with those two."

Pete Yoder, Esperanza: "Kerwin Bell, without question, is the best running back to come out of Orange County. He had great natural ability, great acceleration. Bell had the three ingredients of a great running back--speed, balance and quickness.

"I'd have to rate Myron White second and then Jim Farrell third. Farrell didn't have blazing speed, but he found the holes as good as anyone. I also liked Damon Sweazy. He was a blue-collar runner with tremendous moves and balance.

"Isaac Curtis? He had tremendous speed, but I don't think he was an instinctive runner. I've watched Pallares, and he's a very durable runner who is steady game after game. But I don't think you can categorize him among the top backs who have played in Orange County."

Bill Workman, Edison: "Kerwin Bell was the best I've seen in Orange County. He had the ability to make the 'home run' play better than anybody. He was a power runner with great speed. (Marina Coach) Dave Thompson once told me he thought his defense was doing a great job if they held Kerwin to four yards a carry.

"I'd rate Myron White right behind Kerwin and then I have problems separating Willie Gittens and Isaac Curtis. Myron White was another 'home run' runner, but he wasn't as tough as Kerwin. If you're picking the toughest runner around, I'd go with Dave Geroux. He was a throw back to another era of tough, punishing runners that you just don't see anymore."

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