By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Zack Johnson remembers the first start of his high school career. It came during his freshman year against Shady Spring.
“We lost the game,” Johnson said.
There haven’t been many of those over the years in Charmco. But that fall evening in 2009 was about more than a win or a loss. It also started the career of a player who has become an integral part of an incredible run at Greenbrier West.
Johnson, a 6-foot-3, 265-pound senior, is now a four-year starter for the Cavaliers. He is the starting center on offense and left tackle on defense.
Last Saturday’s 48-6 win over Meadow Bridge in a first-round Class A playoff game was Johnson’s 45th straight start. During Johnson’s time, the Cavs have posted a 36-9 record, including a perfect regular season in 2010.
Five of those losses came in Johnson’s freshman year, a rare non-playoff season for West. Since then, the Cavs are 31-4.
“That first start, I was the low man on the totem pole,” Johnson said. “I gradually worked my way up and now I am a go-to guy as far as leaders go.”
The game, of course, has slowed down for Johnson.
“I’m getting a lot better at reading the defense,” he said. “When I first started, I just wanted to go out and hit somebody. Now I can read plays and know which direction things are going.”
Greenbrier West coach Lewis McClung knows well the value of an experienced lineman.
“He has been key to us, and really critical along the offensive line,” McClung said. “We have gotten leadership from him and Justin Hamrick (a junior).”
Johnson said he prefers defense to offense.
“You get to hit more,” he said. “Offense is more about control.”
As the starting center, it’s up to Johnson to start in motion what is arguably the area’s most effective rushing attack. The Cavs have two 1,000-yard rushers in junior quarterback/tailback Malik Boatwright and senior tailback Tyler Parker.
“They are two different backs,” Johnson said. “Malik can score at any given time, but you know Tyler is going to get five or six yards on each play. You just have to block for them and put somebody on the ground, or get them out of their way.
“It’s exciting because you never know what is going to happen.”
West (10-1), rated No. 6 in Class A, will hit the road to battle No. 3 Wahama (11-0) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. The game will be played at Point Pleasant High School.
It will consecutive start No. 46 for Johnson, who remembers much more about that first one than just the result.
“I was sick to my stomach, I was so nervous,” he said. “But once I got a feel for the game, everything just fell into place. ... I thought I did all right for never (starting) before.”
Things have turned out just fine.
— E-mail: gfauber@