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High school soccer: Success of nation's top-ranked Johnson boys is something for everyone to embrace
The Johnson High boys celebrate their back-to-back state championships with a community gathering May 17, 2023 in Oakwood. Photo by Bill Murphy

When you get to know the players and coaches within Johnson’s boys soccer program, it’s easy to see where its success manifests. 

And in recent seasons, a collection of phenomenal athletes who have a clear focus on achieving excellence has certainly yielded remarkable results. 

On Wednesday, the nation’s top-ranked Knights (21-0 this season) were able to celebrate its back-to-back state championship success with an open gathering at Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium. 

“It’s definitely a special feeling,” Johnson coach Frank Zamora said. “Looking back on what these boys have accomplished, they’ve worked so hard and sacrificed so much. To see it all come to fruition is a special feeling.”

But most of their story is about more than on-the-field supremacy.

There’s 26 players and a handful of coaches at Johnson who pour their hearts and souls into soccer.  

Johnson’s soccer program is grounded in hard work, maintaining high expectations and expecting the best out of one another on the field. 

Winning at the highest level is certainly the icing on the cake, even though the Knights fully expect to make another run in 2024. 

With their latest state championship, the Knights are now riding a 27-game winning streak and have posted nine region championships since 2014. 

This season, Johnson outscored the opposition by a margin of 91-7, culminating with a 4-2 win against Westminster for the Class 4A championship on May 4 at McEachern High School in Powder Springs. 

Afterward, the fun began with a mad dash to the student section to celebrate with friends, fans and family at McEachern High. 

“There’s not really words to describe what it feels like winning the state championship,” Johnson sophomore Daniel Trujillo said. “It’s something that can’t be recreated.”

Now with back-to-back championships, it means players will be getting fitted for another state championship ring. 

“It’s just an unbelievable feeling to have back-to-back titles,” Knights sophomore Alex Gonzalez said. “I still haven’t wrapped my head around it yet.”

The only thing left unknown yet about the 2023 season is the national championship, which will almost certainly be awarded to Johnson next month when the final poll by the United Soccer Coaches is released. 

And Zamora is certainly the biggest advocate for his program. 

He sees how hard they work each and every day in developing a national-powerhouse program. 

“Given the heart, work ethic of these boys, the sky’s the limit,” Zamora said. 

For its most notable star, Jorge Sandoval feels like his time playing soccer for Johnson has been a big blessing in his life, certainly leaving a legacy of reaching for greatness and achieving it, too. 

“It’s been so much fun while it lasted,” Sandoval said. “Now that it’s over (for me), it feels great to know we kept it going. We added two stars to that crest. The (school) crest will always have those two stars in it for our championships.”

For all Johnson’s prolific success, it was actually a loss that kick-started its run, Zamora said. 

In 2021, the Knights endured a heartbreaking loss to McIntosh in the state championship, also at McEachern. 

He said, from that moment with the amount of anguish his players were experiencing on that long bus ride home, they would do anything humanly possible to avoid ever feeling that way again. 

“That loss lit a fire in their hearts,” Zamora said. “After that, it almost becomes addicting being there (state championship). These kids don’t shy away from the spotlight. They love playing in big games and what bigger game than a championship?”

And so far, so good. 

But winning state titles isn’t all about glitz and glamor. 

Johnson’s players emphasize that it’s a tremendous amount of work to get to the top — and stay there. 

“That’s been our goal from Day 1 this season, to go back to back,” Johnson junior David Arteaga said. “Then at practice every day, we’d go after it and give 100 percent, and that would translate into the games.”

And even though Zamora is a players coach who makes the game tremendously fun for his athletes, his structure requires players giving everything they physically have to help the team win. 

However, the chemistry portion is relatively easy for the Knights, who consider each other one big family. 

They may kid with each other and goof around away from the field, but once they step on the pitch, it’s serious business trying to keep up a legacy. 

“Our bond on this team is like no other,” Arteaga said. “We see each other as brothers out there.”

Even though Johnson will lose a lot of talent — three seniors (Sandoval, Christian Robles and Landon Avalos) who are all signed to play at the next level with the University of North Georgia — it still has ample talent to make a run going forward.

Next year, Edgar Vazquez, Trujillo, Gonzalez and Miguel Duran, among others, will ascend into leadership roles as the Knights look to make a three-peat. 

And they’d like nothing more that to add a trophy to its soccer history in Oakwood. 

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