They need speed.
They need strength.
They need a good offensive line.
But most importantly, running backs need to love to run.
They need to be ready to take a pounding as often as they are ready to take the ball. They need to shake off a fumble and ready themselves for the next play.
They need to be in shape to endure the weekly rigors of the position.
They need to play the game like Manatee's Trevon Walters, Palmetto's Josh Hicks, Southeast's Courtney Allen, Bradenton Christian's Sinclair Laskett and Cardinal Mooney's Demardre Patterson.
As the 2013 prep football season gets under way, many area teams are going through a change under center. That means offenses will look to do most of their damage on the ground.
That's not a bad thing.
Hicks has committed to Rutgers.
Allen and Walters will have their choice of suitors before making a decision during February's National Signing Day.
Laskett and Patterson will be the key players for offenses looking to carry their teams to the playoffs.
Welcome to the Manatee County area, where there is no shortage of guys who love to run the football.
"I think it's rare. I think it's pretty cool, though," Allen, a senior, said of so many good backs crammed into one place. "I get a chance to work out with these guys that have the same type of talent as me."
Consider Allen the dean of area ballcarriers, having been a crucial part of Southeast's offense since his freshman year in 2010.
Since then, Allen has become one of the toughest runners around, and his numbers last year -- 1,334 yards, 17 touchdowns, more than 121 yards per game -- did little to dent his rep.
Yet Allen's career got off to the lowliest of starts. Sent in to spell Brian Poole during a 2010 game with archrival Manatee, Allen lost a pair of fumbles, and the Seminoles lost the game by a touchdown.
"That night, that really touched me hard. It really did," he said. "I don't say I wish it happened, (but) I'm glad it happened because it made me stay up nights and do the key things with the ball, like holding it tighter.
"That night turned my whole life around, because I didn't really work that hard. I worked hard, but not as hard as I really thought I could."
Allen said he began staying late after practice. He'd do 10 more sprints than everyone else and work out in the weight room 30 minutes after everyone left.
And when he went home, Allen would sit in his room and work on a better way to grip the football to shake his bout with fumblitis.
"That's what makes you a great player," he said.
While Allen has long been a familiar face in the area, Walters is a relative new kid, readying himself for his second year bursting out of Manatee's backfield.
His debut was a success. The Alabama transplant ran for 1,119 yards and 16 touchdowns in helping the Hurricanes to 13 wins and a spot in the Class 7A state semifinal.
Not surprisingly, running back is a position Walters has been playing his entire life, even if he is still relatively new to Manatee County.
"I love running people over, I love to show my speed when I can," Walters, a senior said, "I just love it.
"You don't want to get all the attention and not do good."
This year will be a bit of a different one for Walters. The Hurricanes are without Cord Sandberg, one of the state's most prolific quarterbacks the past three seasons who is now playing baseball in the Philadelphia Phillies organization.
Sandberg wasn't only an accurate passer; he ran the ball a lot, too. That, coupled with a string of blowouts Manatee engineered during the season, was a reason why Walters never got more than 15 carries in a game.
Of course, Walters won't be shouldering Manatee's offense by himself. Josh Meyer, Sandberg's replacement, ran for 136 yards in the spring game, and the Hurricanes return top receivers Brodrick Yancy and Marquel Hines.
And Walters will get to run behind one of the area's toughest and most experienced lines, a group that already includes Division I recruits Jake Stickler (Georgia Tech) and Michael Galati (USF).
Over at Palmetto, Hicks will have to do something Allen and Walters won't: play both sides of the ball.
Aside from taking handoffs, Hicks will man the defensive backfield as a free safety. The hybrid role began last year, when Hicks came back from a Week 1 injury and volunteered to play defense for a unit that had lost eight starters from the year before.
He'll be doing it again this fall for a Palmetto team competing in Class 7A.
"I've got to go hard every play," said Hicks, who ran for 600 yards during the regular season. "No giving up because that's my job, and I want to win.
"It was a learning experience at the beginning, but I had to do what's best for the team. At the time, it was time for me to move to defensive back. Then they needed me at running back. That's how the game goes."
Of course, Hicks still loves to run, and that's something Palmetto loves to hear. Hicks ran for 1,301 yards as a sophomore on the Tigers' 2011 final four team.
"When I get the ball in my hands," he said, "I have to do whatever I have to do to get the ball in the end zone."
Similar to Hicks, Laskett will be wearing many hats. Aside from running the ball -- Laskett had 94 carries for 842 yards last fall -- he will see time at slot receiver and cornerback.
"I go hard every play," said Laskett, a senior, "but I have coaches on the sideline who talk to me and say, 'Scouts are up there and they're watching you, and they don't want you to take any plays off.' I try to get that extra wind."
Laskett never played much running back until last season, and he wound up pacing the Panthers in rushing while scoring nine times, success he attributes mostly to the work of the offensive line.
But it didn't hurt that Laskett enjoyed his new assignment.
"When I was younger, I always wanted to play running back and receiver," said Laskett, who also snared 15 catches for 242 yards. "When I was in Pop Warner, my coaches never gave me the opportunity to do that. So I'm blessed enough to have my high school coach give me the opportunity."
Patterson, entering his second season with the Cougars after transferring from Out-of-Door Academy, sounded pleased with his situation, too.
"I love running back," Patterson said.
Prior to his days taking handoffs, Patterson was a slot receiver. The position switch came with some wrinkles, including different ways to hold the ball.
"High and tight, not running the ball so high up, dropping your shoulder," he said, "stuff like that."
Anthony Caiazzo, who ran for nearly 1,900 yards in 2011, was the Cougars' top back entering last season. But injuries slowed him, and Patterson wound up rushing for 527 yards on 69 carries.
"Full-field awareness, where to go," Patterson said when asked what he learned from his first full year as a running back. "Is the cutback line there or not? No. If it's not there, drop your head and get as many yards as you can. Stick that foot on the ground."
Five different running backs.
Five different schools.
Add it all up, and it can equal one special season for area prep football.