|Zach Johnson (58) blocks an FAU defender in last year's game (Lamar Higgins photo)|
This story appears in the Thursday print edition of the Dothan Eagle. You can read it on dothaneagle.com HERE.
BY DREW CHAMPLIN | email@example.com
TROY – When Troy coaches held their draft for the Trojan Challenge, one of the team’s youngest players was the first to go off the board.
Running backs coach Jeff Beckles had the first pick. Just as if he were to pick LeBron James first in a fantasy basketball draft, Beckles took rising sophomore offensive lineman Zach Johnson first in this draft.
Teams of 10 players each compete all spring in challenges on and off the field, but mostly in the classroom, weight room and with community service. The challenge focuses more on accountability than on-field results and statistics.
“Zach is always going to do the right thing,” Beckles said. “I know academically, he’s going to bring in grades for us. I knew he was going to do the right thing off the field. I knew he was going do a good job in the weight room and get us weight warriors points there.
“I just saw him as an all-around athlete.”
The message was simple – coaches and players already view Johnson, who graduated from high school a semester early and enrolled in January of last year and earned a starting spot at right guard, as one of the team’s leaders.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that a 4.0 student, early graduate from high school is a guy you want leading your team,” Troy offensive coordinator Kenny Edenfield said.
Johnson said he was surprised to get picked first overall. Other first-round picks were receiver Jaquon Robinson, defensive tackle Kyle Lucas, right tackle Terrence Jones, running back D.J. Taylor, center Andrew Phillips, defensive end Tony Davis, tight end Jim Teknipp, receiver Eric Dunn and offensive lineman Evan McKissack.
“It’s a blessing that the coaches think that highly of me,” Johnson said. “I think the Lord’s definitely using me in different ways on this team. Not just on the field, but in the locker room and spiritually.”
Team Beckles unfortunately hasn’t earned as many points from Johnson during spring practice because of a freak neck injury caused by running into a pad, but Johnson did return to the practice field for the final week of spring practice. The injury was minor.
“Obviously, he got hurt, and I couldn’t predict that, but I knew he would do get points in several different areas,” Beckles said. “He has been a leader for us. He leads a Bible study that older guys go to and he gathers guys up for community service work.”
Beckles’ draft strategy took his fellow coaches by surprise.
“I knew that’s who I wanted,” Beckles said. “They didn’t think I was going to pick him first. They knew he’d go in the first round, but they didn’t think I would pick him first.”
Johnson, who is from Dawsonville, Ga., and doesn’t turn 19 until May 29, is still starting at right guard though he played some center in high school. He could play any of the interior line positions for the Trojans.
But he’s focused on doing his part to help Troy turn things around from last year’s 3-9 season. The Trojans finish spring drills with a 10 a.m. workout on Saturday.
“I think we’ve made a lot of improvements in the offseason,” Johnson said. “People are hungry, too, and we want to get back to winning.
“Everybody just doesn’t want a repeat of last year. Everybody’s striving to get better. (Spring practice has been) a lot more physical with a lot more competition and everybody just wants to get better.”