By Rick Kozlowski
The Journal (Martinsburg)
MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- A few days before Martinsburg played in and won its historic third straight state championship, Phil Ratliff watched the Bulldogs practice.
Dressed in a green-and-gold Charlotte warmup suit and wearing a ballcap, Ratliff watched the Bulldogs go through their paces leading up to a 38-14 victory over Cabell Midland in the state Class AAA state championship game earlier this month.
While Ratliff watched everything during the practice, his eye really was focused on lineman Eugene German, who committed last summer to the new Division I program at North Carolina-Charlotte. The 49ers will play their first game in August.
Ratliff, the offensive line coach at Charlotte, knows something about talent. He was an All-America offensive lineman at Marshall. He just wants to make sure German remains in the fold.
As does the whole Charlotte program. Head coach Brad Lambert visited with German and his family last week.
"I like when they come up to see me,'' German said, "that they care and are excited for me to join them.''
German, when he signs his letter-of-intent, will be part of the new football program at Charlotte, where he thinks he'll get a strong opportunity to step on to the field next fall.
For now, though, German will enjoy being the winner of the Hunt Award as the state's top high school lineman. He is being honored today by the West Virginia Sports Writerás Association as Martinsburg's second winner.
"I think there is no question he was the best lineman in the state,'' Martinsburg coach David Walker said. "He definitely played like it through the playoffs. He had dominant performances during the playoffs, blocking people 15 yards downfield, pancaking them, driving people into the ground.''
Steve Roach, who went to Penn State, won the award previously for Martinsburg in 2001.
German, a self-called "Army brat'' who even lived in Germany, is the only one of those two who can call himself a state champion, however.
He anchored the line at tackle for an offense that averaged 51.6 points per game and a hearty 47.5 in the Bulldogs' four playoff victories. Martinsburg, which graduated its quarterback and running backs from a season earlier, succeeded on the ground and through the air during a 13-1 season, part of a 42-1 run during its title spree.
German didn't even play on the first of the Bulldogs' three straight championship teams that equaled the state record of three titles in a row by Charleston High between 1968-70. Instead, he suffered a loss to Martinsburg.
During his sophomore year, German played for Thomas Johnson, Md., as the Patriots dropped an 11-7 decision to the Bulldogs on a Thursday night at home during Martinsburg's first championship season.
Although he enjoyed his time at Thomas Johnson, between his junior and senior years, German's family, its roots in Martinsburg, moved back to the Eastern Panhandle, and German became a Bulldog. Welcomed by some old friends on the team, his career really took off.
"Since we moved back, everything has been great,'' German said, "winning two titles and now winning the Hunt Award. Everything's worked out fine.''
Winning the Hunt Award brought the year to a crescendo for German.
"This season couldn't have been any more successful than what it was,'' German said. "I want to thank all of my coaches and thank God for this opportunity.''
Walker thinks it's only the beginning for the 6-foot-5, 260-pound German.
"I think he has a lot of potential,'' Walker said. "With his frame, he's going to be able to put on 40 pounds. He'll be a great player because he's a great athlete, he's got long arms. He's a good pass-blocker.
"The sky's the limit for him if he works hard.''
Other finalists for the award were Gage Gould of Cabell Midland, Adam White of Morgantown and Anthony Bryant of Wayne.
"He's a good student and a kid with great character,'' Walker said of German. "He's a great player, but even a greater person.''
The coaches of the new football program at Charlotte seem to think so, too.
Lineman of the year
2012-Eugene German, Martinsburg, OL-DL
2011-Garrett Stanley, Bridgeport, OL-DL
2010-Chad Small, Ravenswood, OL-DL-RB
2009-Blake Brooks, South Charleston, OL-DL
2008-Rodney Hudson, George Washington, OL-DL
2007-Josh Jenkins, Parkersburg, OL-DL
2006-Josh Jenkins, Parkersburg, OL-DL
2005-Adam Brandt, Morgantown, OL
2004-James Burkes, Capital, OL-DL
2003-Doug Legursky, Woodrow Wilson, OL-DL
2002-Nate Howard, Spring Valley, OL
2001-Steve Roach, Martinsburg, DL-OL
2000-Josh Stewart, University, OL-DL
1999-Justin Williams, Moorefield, OL-DL
1998-Luke Salmons, Ravenswood, DL-OL