It’s just past 6 on a cool April morning. Zach Charbonnet’s face is hidden by a black hoodie. He’s wearing a purple Nike headband, gray sweatpants and bright gold cleats.
Beams of sunlight radiate among the scattered clouds while Westlake Village Oaks Christian holds its spring football practice.
From the time of its inception in 2000, Oaks Christian has been known as a school that attracts attention with its football stars. Jimmy Clausen, Malcolm Jones and Cassius Marsh are among the players who gained acclaim in the era of social media.
Charbonnet, 17, is a 6-foot-1, 215-pound running back with dazzling quickness, all-around skills and a proven work ethic. He also chooses to stay under the radar in the world of social media.
He had more than two dozen college scholarship offers but didn’t play the Twitter game, “‘Blessed to say I received my 19th offer from . . .”
On June 23, there was no news conference when he announced via Twitter at just past 5 p.m. that he had committed to Michigan: “Next stop Ann Arbor!”
“Growing up, my family has always been a group of quiet workers,” he said. “We’re not really ones to be flashy about our accomplishments. That’s how I am. I don’t need to say I have all this. I just show it on the field.”
His mother, Seda, who came here from France and is part Cambodian and part Chinese, is a huge influence. She stresses humbleness, respect and commitment. Her sayings help explain her son’s beliefs:
— “The school takes care of academics. Parents take care of character.”
— “He likes attention, but he’s not out there seeking it.”
— “Respect is earned. That’s called being a role model.”
What you see from Charbonnet on and off the field is authentic.
“He’s the best there is,” former Oaks Christian coach Jim Benkert said. “He’s got all the measurements and loves the game. He’s one of those guys who can take over a game on either side of the ball and is probably the best running back in the country. He competes at a high level on every play. You can’t coach that kind of stuff. He’s a throwback player. He does his job and doesn’t care about statistics. All he cares about is winning.”
Charbonnet didn’t start playing football until seventh grade. His focus had been on basketball and baseball. His parents didn’t want to expose him to football’s physical contact until then.
“As soon as I touched the field, I fell in love with the sport,” he said.
This past spring, he was waking up at 4:30 a.m. for workout sessions, whether on the field or in the weight room. Running the grueling 400 meters in track helped him improve his speed and endurance. His posture is so perfect that he could be an advertisement for what learning track fundamentals can do for a football player.
Charbonnet rushed for 2,049 yards and scored 23 touchdowns last season to help Oaks Christian win the Southern Section Division 2 championship. His five playoff games show how he performs under pressure: 193 yards rushing against Arroyo Grande; 169 yards against Huntington Beach Edison; 107 yards against Upland; 133 yards against Valencia and 170 yards against La Mesa Helix.
“He’s a captain kid who will take things on his shoulders,” Benkert said.
First-year coach Charles Collins will try to find ways to let Charbonnet make a difference.
Fans need to understand he appreciates attention based on performance. So standing ovations are fine after a touchdown. He figures to earn plenty this season.
TOP RUNNING BACKS TO WATCH THIS SEASON
Name; School; Height; Weight; Year; Comment
Micah Bernard; Gahr; 6-0; 200; Sr.; Finished with 2,411 yards rushing, 27 TDs
Zach Charbonnet; Oaks Christian; 6-1; 215; Sr.; Michigan commit has size, speed, strength
Cameron Davis; Upland; 6-0; 185; Sr.; Washington commit averaged 9.4 yards per carry
Sean Dollars; Mater Dei; 5-10; 185; Sr.; Oregon commit is big-play weapon
George Holani; St. John Bosco; 6-0; 195; Sr.; Relentless, powerful runner
Thomas Kinslow; Corona Centennial; 5-10; 180; Sr.; Rushed for 20 touchdowns
Damien Moore; Bishop Amat; 5-10; 190; Jr.; 97 yards rushing vs. St. John Bosco showed potential
Chris Street; JSerra; 5-11; 205; Jr.; Mater Dei transfer has lots of talent and speed
Joseph Todd; Santee; 6-1; 170; Sr.; Rushed for 1,800 yards, 19 TDs
Jordan Wilmore; Lawndale; 5-9; 190; Sr.; Rushed for 31 touchdowns
Que Allen; St. Paul; 5-10; 180; Sr.; Rushed for more than 1,600 yards
Kevin Armstead; St. Francis; 5-7; 165; Jr.; Should have breakthrough season
Jamaal Bell; Antelope Valley; 5-10; 165; Sr.; Has speed, big-play skills
James Bohls; San Clemente; 6-0; 190; So.; Fast and ready to make impact
JoJuan Collins; Narbonne; 6-0; 190; Jr.; Has blazing speed
Daniel Fortune; Cajon; 5-11; 190; Sr.; Part of record-breaking offense
Christian Grubb; SO Notre Dame; 5-11; 170; Sr.; Track star is ready for big season
Christian Jaime; Westminster; 5-8; 200; Sr.; Gained 1,643 yards rushing
Keeshawn Johnson; Dorsey; 5-8; 160; Sr.; Has lots of running ability
Michael Moreno; Brawley; 6-0; 210; Sr.; Rushed for 1,679 yards in 10 games
Joseph Taylor; Hawthorne; 5-7; 155; Sr.; Rushed for 1,210 yards in seven games
Jesse Valenzuela; Camarillo; 5-7; 150; Jr.; Rushed for 1,048 yards as a sophomore