Aug. 5—PAINTSVILLE — Dylan Boner isn't just now getting his mind wrapped around being the only returnee among Johnson Central's road-grading six men up front.
That process began at the end of last season, when the Golden Eagles said goodbye to four since-graduated starting linemen — tackles Grant Bingham and Lucas Wyatt and guards Chris Meek and Owen Lemaster — and starting tight end Keygan Pelfrey, as well as second-stringer Kaydon Carpenter.
"I knew I was gonna have to step up and be a leader this year," Boner said. "The last two years I started, I got to stand there and take in all the information, because all the older guys were in front of me. This year, I knew I had to step up and be a leader, like everybody else was to me."
Johnson Central's signature position group, its offensive line, has paved the way for the Golden Eagles to rank among the state's top 10 in rushing yards per game in each of the last six seasons. That includes ranking second in the commonwealth in the last two campaigns.
Boner knew early on when it became his time to lead them.
"I think that it started with Dylan being a leader as soon as the season was over last year," first-year Johnson Central coach Jesse Peck said. "When we got in the weight room, Dylan was there every day. He pushed himself every day. May not have been a vocal leader in there, but everybody seeing what he was doing made them work harder."
Some of the Golden Eagles' previous lines' defining characteristic was sheer size. That isn't what sets Boner apart, Peck said.
"Dylan is just one of those blue-collar guys that comes to work every day," Peck said. "We don't see 6-5, 300 (pounders) that run a 5-flat (40-yard-dash time). But we do get Dylan Boners who show up and are tough-nosed guys that love being linemen, especially in our offense. It's every lineman's dream ... 'Let's run it. We'll run it over top of them. It's big on big.'
"Dylan embodies that personality of, let's just go. It's a war within the trenches for him. He's won a lot of them."
And Johnson Central's backs have benefited. Three Golden Eagles who rushed for at least 600 yards and nine touchdowns last season return — Zack McCoart (1,287 yards, 18 TDs in 2021), Chase Price (834 yards, 14 scores) and Carter Conley (611 yards, nine TDs) are back.
So is Mason Lawson, who averaged more than 140 yards on the ground through two games before a season-ending injury.
"It's a lot easier," Boner said of having that backfield wealth. "They're all experienced this year. They know what they're doing, and it makes life 10 times easier on us."
That's good for Johnson Central, because its belly-option offense, designed to control the ball and the clock, is a little more complex, Peck said, than it might appear at first blush.
"Looking at it from the stands, you think it's grade-school, something that we just throw out there and say, go run behind the big guy," Peck said. "But there's a lot of stuff that goes with it."
Part of that is its blocking schemes.
"(Offensive line coach) John Blair calls it path blocking," Boner said. "You gotta stay on your path, and whoever crosses it, you just run over."
Boner has become proficient in that since cracking the starting lineup as a sophomore. He played center last season but might see other roles up front this year, Peck said, with four spots up for grabs.
Peck sees Boner's versatility, experience and knowledge as a significant boon as new starters transition into those roles.
"He's like having another coach there, this being his third year as a starter," Peck said. "If there are any questions, then Dylan's usually pretty quick to come up with the answer, and it's usually the right answer. That's always a huge plus."
Boner's coachability also sets a good example, his coach said.
"Coach Blair doesn't take it easy on him," Peck said. "He jumps him just like he did his freshman year. He's not gonna let him by with anything; he pushes him to get better every day.
"But Dylan takes it, he learns from it, he pushes himself and he does get better every day. That's what we're gonna have to have from him and the four buddies with him for us to be successful."
Boner knows that and welcomes whatever pressure the wholesale changes up front might bring.
"I think we're handling it pretty good right now," he said. "We're just gonna keep chipping away, and we're gonna get there."
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