Johnson shines on pitch, leads team attack


Midtown Athletics

Sophomore Lathan Johnson was awarded as the 2022-2023 5-AAAAA region Player of the Year. Johnson led Midtown in scoring through its state-runner up season with 16 goals.

At the end of the 2022-2023 boys soccer season, sophomore Lathan Johnson was recognized as the Region 5-AAAAA Player of the Year.

Johnson knew soccer was the sport he wanted to play since he stepped on the field for the first time.

“It was the first sport [my mom] put me in,” Johnson said. “I was always moving around and athletic, but I really grew a passion for the sport when I was around 8 years old. [Soccer] has been everything to me since I first touched the field at a very young age.”

As a freshman, Johnson was already starting on varsity. As one of the youngest members of the team, Johnson was heavily influenced by the example of senior players.

“I looked up to many of the seniors as more than teammates and people I could rely on,” Johnson said. “They helped me fit in and felt like I could be myself when I was around them.”

During the season, Johnson spends up to 30 hours per week working on his game. Johnson’s mom, Jay Johnson, said that he is driven by his passion for the sport.

“He is on a pitch somewhere after [school] until 8 or 9 o’clock at night,” Jay Johnson said. “When he is not studying, he is on a pitch somewhere. It is either him and his brother, him and his teammates, or him just by himself. He has a passion for the game; he has a passion for winning.”

Johnson values his first year on the team as it helped him develop as a player and gave him a strong platform to excel in his sophomore season.

“Even though I was one of the youngest players on the team [last year], I knew I had to step up in big moments. It was a good challenge for me to develop into my career,” Johnson said. “Since last year, I feel like my confidence has gotten to another level, along with the skills and experience I got from playing competitive teams last year. I took this year to step up as leader and took pride in getting the win every single game.”

Johnson has taken on a critical role in the team’s offense. Senior co-captain Zach Spangler said Johnson has played a key role this season.

“Lathan has been instrumental in the offense,” Spangler said. “He not only scores, but he opens up chances for other players.” 

Boys soccer coach Jamie Benedetti reiterated Johnson’s importance on the team’s attack.

“[Lathan is] a great all-around striker,” Benedetti said. “He’s strong; he’s fast; he’s very technical [and] he can play with both feet, so he’s just a handful to deal with [for defenders]. He’s really aggressive on the ball: he’ll win second balls, if he takes a bad touch and loses it, he’ll challenge and win the ball right back.”

It was through this offensive prowess Johnson earned recognition as the region Player of the Year. This season, Johnson has led the team in goals, scoring 16 in 18 games.

Not only has Johnson contributed significantly to the team’s offense, but he has also taken on more of a leadership position. Johnson said that this new responsibility was influenced by the addition of his younger brother to the squad.

“[We lost] a lot of seniors last year,” Johnson said. “I was forced to grow faster and provide a leadership role, especially for my younger brother coming into the squad.”

In his junior year, Benedetti expects Johnson to step up even more as a leader. 

“Naturally, as [players] become upperclassmen and especially if you’re a starter and you’ve been around, you become more of a leader on the team,” Benedetti said. “If you’re a freshman or even a sophomore who’s a starter and has an active role, it’s a fine line because you’re having a big impact on the team, you are a leader, but you also have to respect the upperclassmen. Next year Lathan’s going to be a junior, and he’ll have been a starter for two years; he’s coming back as co-region Player of the Year and he’s going to be one of the de-facto leaders of the team.”

Johnson says one of his major goals for the future is to continue his career at the collegiate level, and hopes  his experience at Midtown will take him even further.

“I hope to play in college in the future,” Johnson said. “[It would] make my parents happy, and also open up opportunities to further my career even more or find another pathway to take on in my life.”

Having collegiate athletic experience himself at the University of Dayton and Georgia State University, Benedetti thinks Johnson has what it takes to take his career to the next level. Benedetti says that Johnson is the same type of player as he was.

“[Lathan] definitely has the talent and he definitely has the work ethic. He just has to keep doing what he’s doing,” Benedetti said. “I recognize [Lathan’s] type of player because I was that type: where soccer is everything. [Lathan] eats soccer, he sleeps soccer, he’s thinking about it all the time. The important thing is to stay focused and to stay on [your] path and keep developing and keep getting better. I think that’s the biggest thing for him because he’s got the talent, he’s got the work ethic, he just has to keep focusing on getting better every year and keeping that same mentality when he gets to the next level.”