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Huntington’s Zah Jackson repeats as Carl Lee Award winner

HUNTINGTON — Billy Seals bristled at an official who threw a flag for pass interference on Zah Jackson early last season.

“A kid with offers from SEC programs doesn’t need to interfere with any receiver in West Virginia,” said Seals, Huntington High’s football coach, of his star cornerback.

Jackson, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound junior, is the winner of the Carl Lee Award as the best high school defensive back in the state. Jackson also won the award last year.

The speedy shutdown corner said he was honored to win the award named after former Marshall University and NFL star. Lee played safety for 11 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings and one with the New Orleans Saints. He was a three-time All-Pro. Lee, a native of South Charleston, was an All-Southern Conference cornerback with the Thundering Herd from 1979 through 1982.

Jackson owns college scholarship offers from Mississippi State, Marshall, West Virginia, Akron, Appalachian State, Eastern Kentucky, the University of Charleston, James Madison, Kent State, Liberty, North Carolina State and West Virginia State. 

For the season, Jackson made 57 tackles, four for lost yardage, intercepted five passes, broke up eight, returned one for a touchdown, forced one fumble and blocked a punt for a TD. Modest numbers? Not in context. Jackson played little in several of the Highlanders’ blowouts and foes didn’t test him often.

“He deserves it,” Lee said. “I’ve seen him play. He certainly deserves it. He’s a better player at his age than I was at that age. The young man makes plays.”

On offense, Jackson ran for 1,157 yards and 18 touchdowns, caught 221 yards worth of passes. He also ran back 209 yards worth of kickoff returns, one for a touchdown.  

Jackson helped Huntington High to a Class AAA state title in 2022 and earned most valuable player honors in the 28-3 victory over Parkersburg South. He aided the Highlanders in making the semifinals this season. 

“Zah is such an explosive player,” Seals said. “There’s no doubt he’s the best in the state. The thing is, he continues to get better and better. He works at it.”

Seals also praised Jackson for his off-field exploits.

“He’s a great young man and the No. 1 player in the state,” Seals said. “His future is very bright.”

Jackson will be recognized at the 77th annual Victory Awards Dinner on May 5, 2024 at River City in Wheeling.

Other players who received votes for the Lee Award include Fairmont Senior’s Cannon Dinger, North Marion’s Landon Frey, Morgantown’s Bobby Powell and Independence’s Trey Bowers.

TIM STEPHENS/The Herald-Dispatch