There’s palpable anticipation among the Johnson High boys soccer program and its robust fanbase as another season starts.
The majority of its prolific talent is back after losing 2-1 to McIntosh in the 2021 state championship match for Class 5A.
And, in 2022, Johnson’s current crop of players is eager to get over the hump and win the state championship for the first time since 2018.
“We’re very excited,” Johnson coach Frank Zamora said. “These boys have definitely put in a lot of hard work during the offseason.”
Johnson’s boys were part of a fantastic finish to the season and deep postseason run for programs from Hall County.
East Hall lost in the Class 4A championship match, while Flowery Branch’s boys are coming off a trip to the state quarterfinals.
After a 6-0 win against Habersham Central to open the season Tuesday, these Knights will be subjected to a challenging early-season schedule.
The big draw for Johnson, long before region play kicks off, will be a match against Gainesville on Friday at City Park Stadium.
Up until early March, Johnson has a challenging 10-match, non-region schedule on deck, before opening 8-5A play against Greenbrier on March 4.
Every season is filled with high expectations for the Knights, all realistic and built upon from past achievement.
However, the current crop has an edge to its mentality.
Leading the way, this season, for the Knights is senior captain center midfielder Angel Sagrero, who will play in college at Georgia Southern University, and junior captain Jorge Sandoval.
However, it’s the tradition that resonates and transcends from season to season among fans in Oakwood.
Every year, Johnson graduates a group of talented soccer talent, but expects greatness from the next group coming up to the varsity level.
In 2022, Sagrero is one of the strongest fabrics that ties that past and future together for the Knights.
The spirited midfielder grew up admiring has older brother, Tony, who was on Johnson’s last state championship squad four years ago.
Now, Sagrero has his younger cousin, Alex Gonzaleez, a freshman, who has earned a spot on varsity.
Sagrero takes his responsibility seriously.
He’s a leader on the field with his constant pursuit of perfection and consumption of the game in all forms possible.
However, he’s also a leader in the lockerroom, acting as a coach on the field for Johnson, keeping a good sense of the pulse of the entire program.
Sagrero’s style is to lead by example.
He’s put in the work to earn the respect of teammates and coaches.
If he’s not training, practicing or watching soccer, he’s putting in training and conditioning necessary to handle the physical grind of playing soccer.
“Angel’s always got a ball,” Zamora said. “He’s just a really, hard worker and complete player.”
It takes a lot of talent to make it on the pitch for the Knights.
After standing out on junior varsity as a freshman, and positively benefitting from a growth spurt, Sagrero got a taste of the varsity spotlight in 2020 when Johnson only played eight matches, due to the COVID-19 shortened season.
In 2021, with things back to normal, Sagrero was a tangible difference on the field for the Knights.
In the state semifinals last season, Sagrero provided the goal in penalty kicks to advance past private-school powerhouse Woodward Academy.
After graduating only a couple of starters from last season’s squad, the boys in baby blue and white are rightfully geared up toward a run to a state championship.
“They’re trying to build on the legacy of the teams that came before them here at Johnson,” Zamora said.
Soccer season is much more than the players on the field at Johnson High.
It’s packed stadiums on chilly spring nights.
And students streaming onto the field at Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium after big wins.
Many families are fortified by the bonds created on the soccer field for the Johnson boys.
“That’s a big part of the motivation for our program,” Zamora said. “They feel the love and support. They see their families and friends in the stands cheering them on.”
And when the leaves start to bloom on the trees in the spring, chatter about another run at a state championship will commence in Oakwood.
And the talent gives credibility to the statement that the Knights will be there deep in the playoffs into May.
“There’s great chemistry with this group and they’re hungry to go out there and what they so badly want,” Zamora said.