PHOTO: Zach McClung has averaged over 10 tackles per game over the past two seasons for Greenbrier West, coming off a 10-2 record last season.
By Dave Morrison
CHARMCO – Zack McClung clearly remembers the 2013 Greenbrier West football season.
The Cavaliers raced all the way to the state title game before falling to the Ross Comis-led Blue Dons 24-14 on a cold night on Wheeling Island.
The exploits of that 2013 squad are up there with the 1991 team (similarly a runner-up, but in Class AA) in Greenbrier West lore.
The 2013 team finished with a 12-2 record, knocked off the likes of St. Mary’s and Magnolia along the playoff route and only gave up over over 20 points one time in 14 games.
More than any of those numbers, McClung remembers the interaction those Cavalier hometown heroes, guys like Malik Boatwright, Dustin Yoakum, Cory Cox and Marquis Frazier and the influence they carried with the youngsters in the area.
“We used to go down to the field and those guys would talk to us and throw the football around,” McClung said. “Those were the guys I looked up to, we all did.”
These days, McClung is now one of the guys that the kids in the community want to emulate. Being a role model to future Cavaliers, paying it forward, is a job he takes seriously.
“The kids want to come down and talk to us and throw the ball around and we really enjoy it,” McClung said. “We take it seriously, just like the guys used to do when we were coming up. Those guys will be where we are one day.”
The 2013 team served as a guide.
“We talked about how we wanted to be like that team,” McClung said. “We just came up a little short of that goal.”
Toby Harris, the team’s first head coach when the school opened in 1968, returned to the sidelines last year and in storybook fashion the team responded with a playoff run, falling in the Williamstown 34-22 in the second round of the playoffs. Greenbrier West finished the season 10-2.
“We had a new coaching staff and everything just changed,” McClung said. “We knew we had the talent but last year we also had a different chemistry. We had some of the coaches who were on the staff in 2013. Everybody came together. We just wanted to go a little further than we did.”
Good news, there is still time for these current Cavaliers to etch their names into the annals of all-time great teams at Greenbrier West.
“There is talk in the community that we might have a better team than we did last year,” McClung said. “I believe we do. I think this team is good enough to go all the way and take the state title. I think we have the players to get that done.”
The Cavaliers return offensive leaders like Noah Brown, who led the area in rushing last year with 2,154 yards, including a school-record 322 against Pocahontas County and quarterback Kaiden Pack (564 yards passing, 523 rushing). And McClung was a leader for the Cavaliers on defense, which held six of its final eight opponents to 13 or fewer points.
He was one of the state’s leading tacklers a year ago, with 122 stops. That placed him in the top five in the state among teams that report stats to Max Preps.
“I’ve had a lot more time on the defense, it’s where I do my best work,” McClung said.
He was a first-team Class A all-stater, as an offensive utility, though his numbers on that side of the ball are not as lofty as those on defense.
“I was a little surprised but very blessed to be named to the all-state team,” he said.
McClung said the mental aspect is as big as the physical aspect with regards to his play.
“Every Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Thursday I’m watching football, trying to learn what I can from watching those (college and pro) guys doing it,” McClung said. “How they make calls, what formations they are running. I get a lot out of that.
“It really shows how good teams can be when they are mentally prepared. And that was big for us last year. We were mentally prepared. There is a big difference when you have a team of guys who are mentally into the game and it means more than having one or two guys out there just to wear a jersey.”
The Cavaliers open the season hosting Buffalo.