Zacharie Johnson is good with numbers.
He leads all Austin-area hitters with a .530 batting average.
A straight-A student, his grade point average exceeds 4.0.
Johnson, a senior pitcher and infielder, plays baseball for LBJ, a high school better known for football and basketball achievements. The diploma he receives in June, though, will declare him a graduate of the Liberal Arts and Science Academy of Austin, an advanced academic magnet school.
Johnson enjoys a perfect blend of books and baseball at LASA, which shares classroom space on LBJ’s campus. Driven by his quest to excel on the diamond, he also has made a commitment to study — and play baseball — next fall at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss.. The school is considered to be the top-ranked liberal arts school in the states of Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, according to U.S. News and World Report’s annual rankings of colleges and universities.
LASA has helped prepare Johnson for the next academic chapter in his life.
“Everybody’s smart here,” Johnson said, referring to the magnet school. “I eat lunch with friends who are going to Harvard, Stanford, USC, Penn.”
A heavy diet of advanced placement courses — including English, art history, film literature and one called mathematical reasons — keeps Johnson busy. His daily two-hour break for baseball games or practices serves as a respite from classroom competition.
“I’ll be ecstatic to graduate, but I think my parents will be even more proud,” he said. “You can’t afford to take a day off here.”
Brian and Kellie Johnson encouraged their son to attend LASA, a move intended to prepare him for college. And Brian Johnson has watched every step his sone has made while serving as LBJ’s assistant baseball coach.
LBJ head coach Ruben Covarrubias said Johnson’s determination to maintain his grades carries over to baseball. He said Johnson (6-3, 215 pounds) “got stronger” during the winter by losing 20 pounds, a change that has helped his bat speed and endurance.
“What I see in Zach is his work ethic and how he leads by example,” the first-year Jaguars coach said. “He impressed me with his faith, and he leads the team in prayer. You have to practice what you preach.”
Johnson has been a starter since the day he arrived for practice as a freshman. He hit .240 that year, but improved to .375 as a sophomore and then .404 as a junior. Showing better speed around the bases, his current .530 average includes two homers, 11 doubles, three triples and 27 RBIs.
Johnson’s emergence as one of the area’s most versatile players has helped change the culture of LBJ baseball. When LBJ and McCallum tied for the District 26-4A championship last season, it marked the first time in 26 years the Jaguars had owned a piece of the district title.
This season, LBJ (12-10 overall, 7-2 in district) is tied for second place in 26-4A, one game behind McCallum. The Jaguars and Knights play each other on Tuesday.
Johnson said he has turned down overtures from football coach Keith Willis to join his team. With an eye on the future, he politely says no, even though he believes he could be a pretty mean tight end.
“I don’t want to be a jack-of-all trades and master of none,” Johnson said. “I’ve found a solid foundation for myself.”
On and off the diamond.
JAGUARS: GETTING IT DONE
It’s not all about hitting. Here are a few key players helping LBJ’s baseball team:
Daniel Weinberg, sophomore, pitcher/OF: Combines a 4-3 record and 1.47 ERA with a .333 batting average
Tristan Burt, junior, pitcher/OF: Has a 3-1 record, 2 complete games, a .437 batting average and 26 RBIs
Nate Hattersley, senior, pitcher/OF/1B: Contributes a .400 batting average and 3 home runs