Flyers’ Johnson the one Waynesburg coach wanted

Published 10:00 pm Saturday, May 13, 2023

St. Joseph Flyers’All-Ohio senior soccer standout Zachary Johnson signed a letter-of-intent to play for the Waynesburg University Yellow Jackets on Thursday. Attending the signing ceremony were family members: from left to right, brother Jared, father Dwane, Zachary, mother Lisa and sister Alyson. (Tim Gearhart Sports Photo for The Ironton Tribune)

By Jim Walker

It might seem like a scene from the movie Tombstone as the Zachary Johnson says to Waynesburg head coach Treg Lunger, “I’m your huckleberry.”

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Lunger was the nickname of Doc Holliday because of his tuberculosis. And it was Holliday who said to Johnny Ringo, “I’m your huckleberry” which means “I’m the one you want” or “I’m the right person for the job.”

St. Joseph’s Zachary Johnson

The St. Joseph Flyers senior soccer standout is the one Lunger wanted and Johnson sealed the deal when he signed a letter-of-intent Thursday to play for the Waynesburg University Yellow Jackets.

“Waynesburg University men’s soccer is very pleased to be adding Zachary Johnson to our program for the fall of 2023,” said Lunger. “He has demonstrated himself to be a person of character and a very hard working student/athlete that fits the DNA of a WUFooty team member.

“He is an attacking threat and we look forward to seeing him integrate into the squad we have for 2023.”

Johnson was first team All-Southern Ohio Conference as well as first team Southeast Soccer Coaches’ All-District first team.

With his success and accolades, Johnson entertained numerous offer but said the main schools he considered were Concord University, Covenant College in Georgia, and Asbury College in Lexington, Ky.

“I just want to go somewhere that I can play and it was the best offer money-wise,” said Johnson whose older sister Alyson was a standout volleyball player at Waynesburg and led the nation in digs per set.

Lunger told Johnson he wants him to play the nine position of forward to give the offense a scoring threat.

“They have a new coach and he’s kind of in a rebuild and that’s why I want to go there. I can to make an impact,” said Johnson.

“(Lunger) said he couldn’t guarantee me anything, but he said I should be able to come in and play immediately, so that’s what I’m kind of looking for.”

Flyers head coach Mike Balestra said Johnson is still garnering interest from schools despite having making his decision to attend Waynesburg.

“His decision on where to go was hard and there are colleges still contacting him now,” Balestra said.

Johnson is happy with his decision and he is looking forward to the challenge of playing at the next level and helping make the Yellow Jackets a better program.

“The competition is going to be hard, but I think we’ll be OK. Most of the games they lost were close like one goal and they tied a lot of games,” said Johnson. “It’s going to be harder for sure, but I think I’m ready for it. I’ve been playing a lot of travel ball and playing against kids who are already going to college, so I’m ready.

“I want to be the leading scorer for the team. That would be cool. But we’ll see. You’ve got to practice every day. There’s more to come I guess,”

Johnson then threw some praise toward Balestra.

“He’s the best coach I’ve ever had,” he said.

Balestra hs no doubts that Johnson will be a solid contributor to the Waynesburg program.

“He started for us since he was a freshman and Waverly must have been his field because every time we needed a goal he would scored it for us. Last year he had three against Valley and his freshman year he hit the winning goal against North Adams. His sophomore year he scored both of our goal up there,” said Balestra.

“Zach works really hard and he’ll work hard and improve and he’ll do really well with them,” said Balestra.

Scoring goals wasn’t a problem for Johnson. He finished his career with 99 goals which ranked him first among all St. Joseph boys’ who have played soccer since its first season in 1993.

Billy Kemper of the Eastern Kentucky Football Club was Zachary’s first coach and he recalled how a young 4-year-old proved to be somewhat a prodigy.

“When I took over the academy for EKFC he was the youngest. They were all seven and he was four and I was skeptic he was is young he might hurt himself and I was like we’ll give him a try and practice with us,” said Kemper.

“After a half hour you could see the fight in him and the xxx and I said OK, he’s good to go. Since then, he’s been of my favorite players.”

Besides soccer, Johnson has played basketball and baseball. He played tee ball when he was younger but felt he had to chose between soccer and baseball because each one required a lot of time in order to become a better player.

“I had to make the decision for baseball or soccer and I picked soccer when I was little and I just never went back to baseball,” said Johnson. “I liked basketball but not enough. I played because sometimes we didn’t have enough to play.”

During the school year Johnson said he only gets to practice about twice a week, but in the summer “I practice every day.”

Johnson plans to major in finance.