Friends since the 2nd grade, Johnson and Lopez eye state title as Mr. Offense and Mr. Defense for Gonzales Apaches
Since the second grade, Cecil Johnson and Zack Lopez knew they could count on each other.
The two Gonzales High School seniors have been friends ever since Johnson moved from Luling 10 years ago. Now both happen to be key players on the Gonzales football team, and they have many people counting on them, from coaches and teammates to diehard Apache football fans.
Both players happened to earn all-state honors a year ago as well. Johnson was an all-state running back as he rushed for 1,700 yards and 14 touchdowns, while Lopez was an all-state safety with 102 tackles and a trio of interceptions.
Having been friends for 10 years, Johnson and Lopez have a bond both on and off the field. Each player has his own take on their bond.
“Cecil is just an overall great guy,” Lopez says. “It’s always good to have him by your side. He’s always there for you and backs you up no matter what.”
“Zack helps push everyone to do better — both on and off the field,” Johnson adds.
As they worked their way through the ranks of CYFL, junior high and high school football, Lopez was originally a tailback and Johnson a fullback. Both players also played defense — Johnson at cornerback and Lopez at free safety.
Both players are three-year lettermen as well. A year ago, Lopez earned the start at tailback and free safety in the Apaches’ season-opening 42-6 win over Corpus Christi Miller.
Lopez ran 13 times for 87 yards and three scores, including a 42-yarder early in the second quarter. He also contributed defensively, as the Apaches only surrendered 109 yards of total offense.
In that same game, Johnson came off the bench to run for 90 yards and two touchdowns on just eight carries. That outing proved to be the beginning of a breakthrough season for Johnson.
“Coach (Ricky) Lock gave me a shot to start against Luling after my game against Corpus Christi Miller, and I ran with it,” Johnson recalls.
Johnson literally “ran with it.” In his first varsity start at tailback against Luling the following week, Johnson ran 22 times for 245 yards and three touchdowns, including an 83-yarder.
“I just went out and played,” Johnson says. “I didn’t expect a 245-yard performance. That’s just how it turned out.”
Johnson’s performance against Luling began a streak of seven consecutive games where he rushed for more than 100 yards. His season/career high was 276 in last year’s 48-12 win over Pleasanton, and he also gained 125 yards in the Apaches’ 21-10 bi-district win over Hondo.
Although Lopez didn’t start at tailback following the Miller game, he was still Gonzales’ third-leading rusher a year ago. He had 332 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground.
Lopez still receives playing time at tailback. While some players may have been upset with losing their starting job at tailback, Lopez was not.
“I wasn’t at all upset with Cecil taking the bulk of the carries,” Lopez said. “I like defense a lot more, and free safety is my spot. I love being able to take the ball away from my opponent and give it to my offense. I also love to hit people.”
Hitting is one of Lopez’s strong points. Lock has said before that he doesn’t know of a “harder-hitting free safety in Class 3A.”
Not only can Lopez hit, he also can read quarterbacks well. After intercepting three passes in 2011, Lopez is one away from tying last year’s total as he recorded an interception in each of the Apaches’ first two games this season.
“There’s no doubt that I love to hit,” Lopez says. “But I’d rather get the ball via interception or fumble and return it for a touchdown because putting points on the board helps the team out more than getting a big hit.”
While Lopez likes defense better, Johnson prefers offense. He also sees quality playing time at cornerback this season in addition to being Gonzales’ top ball carrier.
“I like tailback the best because I feel like I can score at any moment when I get a hole to run through,” Johnson says.
Johnson had a fast start to the 2012 season. In two games, he has 445 yards and six touchdowns.
Johnson also has run for more than 200 yards in both games — 216 against Victoria East and 229 against Bastrop. He is on pace for a 2,000-yard season, and a 300-yard game isn’t out of the question either.
“It would be pretty cool to get a 300-yard game,” Johnson said. “But if it doesn’t happen, that’s cool as long as we keep winning.”
In each of the past two seasons, Lopez had to sit out of both preseason scrimmages either for injuries or precautionary reasons. Lopez said that he is “100-percent now.”
While Lopez being 100 percent is probably a bad thing for Gonzales’ opponents — especially opposing receivers, running backs and quarterbacks — it is a good thing for the Apaches and colleges. Lopez already has drawn interest from several schools, including Texas State and UTSA.
He also has an offer from Air Force. If Lopez accepts that, however, a five-year career as an officer in the Air Force will await him after he graduates college.
“My goal this year is to not only have an outstanding year in football, but also to create stronger bonds with friends,” Lopez said. “I also want us to succeed in all sports.”
Like Lopez, Johnson has received interest from Texas State. He also has his own set of goals.
“I want to win state and do well in school,” Johnson said.
At the rate things are going so far, Johnson and Lopez may have a few more schools express interest and possibly a few more offers along the way. While both players are thrilled to have attracted the interest of a few schools, there is one thing on their minds — a state championship.
A year ago, Gonzales finished 11-1 with a district championship, a perfect regular season and a school record in most wins in a season. But a 40-14 area-round loss Wimberley cost the Apaches a shot at a state championship.
With this being the final chance for Johnson, Lopez and the other 23 seniors on the Gonzales roster, a state championship is desired. Both Johnson and Lopez had their takes on what will be necessary in order to accomplish that feat.
“We have to give everything we have — a 100-percent effort,” Lopez said. “We can’t slack off in any position and everyone has to do their part in order to succeed. We have to take practice seriously, take every snap like it’s our last, and play like if we lose we’re going to die. The main thing we need to have is heart, and we have that.”
“We all know that if we play to our full potential that we can beat anyone on our schedule,” Johnson added. “We have to keep working hard if we want to see a state championship, but we know we can do it.”
They’re counting on it.