Greenwich boys lacrosse coach Bobby Lutz had a simple request two months ago when asked for preview information on his team: play down Leo Johnson, his highly touted freshman attack.
“I want to keep him a secret for as long as possible,” Lutz said.
The problem: many of Lutz’s colleagues were already including him on their “Players to Watch” lists. The word had not already gotten out, but been loudly trumpeted.
Johnson has lived up to the hype. As the Cardinals prepare for tomorrow’s opening-round game against Glastonbury in the Class L Tournament, Johnson has 51 goals, 42 assists and become a focal point of opposing defenses coached to impede his path to the net.
“It’s been good,” Johnson said. “My teammates have helped me a lot adjusting to the level of play. Obviously our attack line, the guys have helped me so much getting to understand our offenses and the speed of the game. Also the coaches have helped me so much.”
Lutz got to see Johnson as an 8th grader and was intrigued by the possibilities for his offense the next four seasons.
“So I knew about Leo last year and saw him in a couple practices and games and I knew then that the kid was going to be so special,” Lutz said. “The biggest question was whether or not he was going to come. There were rumors flying around all over the place that he might go to prep school, he might go to Brunswick, he might go to Avon. Even now there are rumors that he’s not going to stay. But he’s having a great time and he’s learned a lot and as long as he’s having fun and he feels that he’s growing, I feel that we will keep him.”
Lutz got a preview of what was to come in two of the Cardinals’ biggest games early in the season, starting with a 7-3 loss to Iona Prep.
“My teammates have helped me a lot adjusting to the level of play. Obviously our attack line, the guys have helped me so much getting to understand our offenses and the speed of the game. Also the coaches have helped me so much.”
— Leo Johnson, Greenwich freshman attack
“He was going against big strong defender and he tried dodging a few times, and when he realized he couldn’t dodge he adjusted to try and make more assists,” Lutz recalled. “I saw it because I knew what we were running but the defense didn’t see it. To them it looked like he was in go-mode. For him to assess the defense and make changes on the fly like that, that’s another high level.”
Three days later came a 13-8 loss against Ridgefield, one of the Cardinals’ biggest league games of the regular season.
“We played (coach Roy) Colsey and Ridgefield and that’s the first thing he said, that kid’s going to be pretty good,” Lutz said. “I wanted him to fly under the radar but no way. Right away against top defenders, he plays at another level and he just looks electric. He’s not big yet and he’s going to have some filling out to do, but his speed and his consistency … he just looks different than a lot of the kids out there. And there’s something about his shot. He just hits these corners and becomes so accurate. When he shoots he looks like any other kid on the field shooting, but his shots go in. Like all the time. I don’t know if it’s his release point or his mechanics. He just has that special element about him.”
If Johnson heard the talk about him among opposing coaches, he said he was unaware of it, focused instead on transitioning to one of the country’s toughest conferences.
“I didn’t really feel any pressure,” Johnson said. “At the end of the day I love playing lacrosse, and my teammates helped me with any angst that I was going to feel. There wasn’t much pressure at all. It was pretty seamless. A few ups and downs like you would expect because it’s my freshman year. It is just a lot of fun.”
Johnson has scored five or more goals in a game several times, but his ability to create has been the equal to his finishing skills, making him multi-dimensional. He also earned the immediate respect of his teammates.
“When you see him dodging in practice and he’s just blowing by kids, he played himself into that position,” Lutz said. “He proved it the second he stepped on the field. That was easy for the kids to accept because they saw how good he is.”
Lutz said Johnson has also proved to be very coachable, which may seem like a given for any first-year player no matter the talent level, but is not always the case. Lutz said he was reminded of conversations he used to have when he was an assistant to Darien coach Jeff Brameier.
“He has the ability at this level to still take the coaching,” Lutz said. “I know that is something when I was with Jeff that we always talked about. Kids get to a certain level and they receive so much coaching from private coaching and club lacrosse and high school coaches that they sort of get into their own mechanics and rhythms and that’s who they are. He’s the type of kid where you say go try this, he does and if it works, it works and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. He’s still a student of the game and that’s really surprising.”
Johnson said despite the numbers, he still has a long way to fully reach his potential. And he is ready to put in the work.
“Obviously the games are much faster and much more intense than I’m used to because I’m playing against kids three and four years older than me,” Johnson said. “I think I can get better with my off hand and feeding ability with that. Allowing a lot of teams to kind of force me there. Sometimes I’m open and I feel I don’t take it as much as I should. It will just open up more for my left hand and more for our offense as a whole.”
As for concerns that Johnson may look to make the move to a private school, he said Greenwich fans can rest easy.
“I really like it here,” Johnson said. “I really like coach Lutz and all of my teammates. I’ve made a bunch of great friends. They have been very welcoming and I feel they trust me and that’s the kind of place I want to be at.”