Benn Johnston has been the focus of the gameplan for everyone who goes up against True National for so long that it’s become second nature for him to have all eyes on him.
There aren’t many midfielders anywhere in the 2023 class that boast Johnston’s combination of size, speed, athleticism, scoring ability and gamebreaking skills all over the field. The 6-1, 195-pounder is easy to notice and just as difficult to slow down, let alone stop.
It still took him a little while to get adjusted when he transferred to Avon Old Farms (Conn.), moving from Chicago. The increased pace of play was an eye-opening difference, and a missed pass from one of the country’s best players set his development into warp speed.
“True has done a great job of helping me develop my IQ, but I think I can improve it more,” Johnston said. “In my first Avon practice, the ball was moving so fast and (NLF No. 4 ’21, Yale commit and Eclipse attackman) Leo Johnson threw me a pass without even looking at me and I missed it. I was, like, ‘wait, we need to do it again.’ I didn’t know he even saw me, but he’s always one step ahead of the defense, so I have to be ready for anything.”
The Winged Beavers are off to a 2-0 start and face national powerhouse and rival Salisbury twice this weekend. Johnston has carved out a niche for himself as a rare sophomore starter for Avon, scoring once in the opener and pocketing two goals and an assist in the second game. It’s not surprising to see him make an impact so early, and it’s a big reason why he’s the No. 7 player in the class in NLFRankings.com’s first class of 2023 rankings.
Despite his early success, Johnston knows that there’s a lot of work to be done, particularly as he slots into a Winged Beavers lineup that has plenty of stars. He’s not tasked with being The Guy quite yet, and that should help him seamlessly slot into what should be a potent offense.
“I had been hoping to start, especially since there’s a lot of competition on the team,” Johnston said. “You have to keep pushing for that spot to secure it every week. Every week, there’s going to be a debate over who had the better week. It keeps you hungry and humble, knowing that there are better guys out there. You have to keep pushing and keep yourself composed in tougher situations, but it’s also fun to get out there and compete against guys. It gives me the drive to not settle where I’m at and keep getting better.”
Domination All over the Field
Johnston prides himself as being a complete two-way midfielder and he’s particularly excited about playing with the 80-second shot clock. He started his career as a defenseman, but one of his traits made it very clear to his coaches that he should give midfield a try.
“I started as a defenseman, but one of my coaches switched me to midfield because I constantly tried to clear the ball and push transition,” Johnston said with a laugh. “Playing defense helped me, though. It helped me learn how defenses work and I knew where slides would come from. I also had a growth spurt in sixth grade that helped me boost my athleticism. When I’d go out East for tournaments, there’d be better competition and I was still succeeding, and that’s when I started to think that maybe I could pursue this and become one of the top guys for my team. I thought, ‘if I keep working at this, I could become something special,’ and I’d be in a situation where I can better for sports and academics. That’s what kept me going through the years.”
There’s no doubt that Johnston will be in high demand on Sept. 1, after a spring where he’ll catch all of Leo Johnson’s passes.
NLFRankings.com Class of ’23 Rankings
No. 7 Benn Johnston, midfield, Avon Old Farms (Conn.) / True National
No. 8 Mac Christmas, LSM, Georgetown Prep (Md.) / MadLax DC Dogs
No. 9 Nate Kabiri, attack, Episcopal (Va.) / MadLax DC Dogs
No. 10 Jacob Pacheco, midfield, Boys’ Latin (Md.) / Crabs