Saugus' James Johnson. Photo by Katharine Lotze/The Signal
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In a season of perfectly timed runs and punctual headers, of goal-scoring almost unlike any Saugus High had ever seen, while lifting the Centurions to heights they had never seen, senior James Johnson managed one misstep.

It involved mac and cheese.

Leading up to Saugus’ game against Hart High on Jan. 27, Johnson went home for lunch.

The forward scarfed down a plate of macaroni and cheese. Then, as he returned his ceramic plate to sink, the dish slipped out of his hand and landed sideways, cutting and bruising the toes on his right foot.

He tried to play in the game (Saugus tied Hart 1-1) but couldn’t.

He took the mishap in the lighthearted manner he displayed whenever he wasn’t hurtling toward the goal throughout a prolific season, one in which his grit and ability led to 28 goals, two short of the school’s single-season program record.

“He’s one of those players you definitely hope for as a coach,” said Saugus coach Seth Groller.

The single-season school record for goals is 30, set by Nate Wright Jr.

Johnson didn’t hit that mark, but his leadership was spot-on.

James Johnson of Saugus High Soccer. Signal file photo

“As one of our senior captains,” Groller said, “his leadership on and off the field was just exactly what we needed.”

Johnson regularly reminded his teammates of the previous season when Saugus finished third in the Foothill League and still made a run to a CIF-Southern Section quarterfinal for the first time since 2007.

A second-place team this year, Johnson told the Centurions they too could make a deep run.

Then he led by example.

Johnson scored the golden goal in Saugus’ Division 4 semifinal win over Norwalk on Feb. 28, sending the Centurions to the first CIF title game in program history.

“That was probably the best feeling that I had this year,” Johnson said.

The Centurions lost 2-0 to Bellflower High in the D4 final on March 3, but the road didn’t end there. Johnson had more timely steps to make.

He scored one goal each in Saugus’ first and second round SoCal Regional playoff games, the Centurions losing the second, 6-1, to Citrus Hill of Perris.

It capped a season laden with more pressure than Johnson’s junior campaign, when he scored 20 goals and announced to the Santa Clarita Valley’s soccer community what Saugus’ coaching staff already knew: He could flat. out. play.

But with notoriety comes expectations.

James Johnson of Saugus High Soccer. Signal file photo

“It was more self inflicted,” Johnson said. “I put a lot on myself. I felt people expected a lot of me. (But) I was able to handle it, and I did better than I did last year. That’s improvement.”

Improvement molded by increased confidence and a strong supporting cast.

“I don’t think I could have done as well if I didn’t have the team that I did,” said Johnson, who dished out six assists on the year. “I think that was a huge part of my success this year.”

Now, Johnson must choose between playing at College of the Canyons or The Master’s University.

Either way he can add to a local legacy that now includes the honor of being The Signal’s 2017 boys soccer All-Santa Clarita Valley Player of the Year.

First team

Tanner Brown, Saugus, Junior

The highlight of the season for Brown (five goals, three assists), and Saugus, came when he connected on a free-kick goal from 49 yards out to tie the score in the closing minutes of Saugus’ CIF-Southern Section Division 4 semifinal win.

Omar Darwish, Valencia, Senior

Darwish anchored a defense that posted 11 shutouts on its way to a second straight Foothill League title and a CIF-SS Division 3 quarterfinal berth.

Josh De Leon, Saugus, Senior

De Leon earned All-CIF honors in Division 4 after dishing out six assists and scoring 13 goals, the biggest a golden goal in double overtime in the CIF quarterfinals.

Cesar Dominguez, Valencia, Senior

Dominguez took on more responsibility in Valencia’s midfield this season. And he delivered, scoring 11 goals and posting nine assists.

Josh Ferguson, Valencia, Senior

Always a threat to get behind an opponent’s defense, the Foothill League Player of the Year used his speed and savvy to score 21 goals and assist on four others.

Sean Kim, Valencia, Senior

There might not have been a player who better understood his role in coach Tony Scalercio’s defense-first system. Kim (three goals, six assists) always played calm and under control in the midfield.

Freddy Montes, West Ranch, Junior

Montes was a solid center midfielder on a West Ranch team that tested the Foothill League’s top teams on multiple occasions.

Jaden Nguyen, Hart, Junior

After sitting out last season because of CIF transfer rules, Nguyen burst onto the scene this season to lead Hart with 13 goals. He added three assists.

Jesus Ocampo, Hart, Senior

Ocampo impressed with his technical skill and quickness wherever he played, whether in the midfield or on the back line. He finished the season with three goals and one assist.

Matt Sayers, Saugus, Junior

Entering the season Saugus thought goalkeeping might be a weakness. The Cents coaching staff was glad to be wrong. In 23 games played, Sayers recorded seven shutouts and made 165 saves.

Dillon Vega, Hart, Junior

If a ball hung in the air, there was a better than 50-50 chance Hart would control it when the 6-foot-1 Vega was in the vicinity. Primarily a defender, Vega did manage two goals and one assist.

Second team

Brennen Armendariz, Saugus, Junior

Armendariz led an all-underclassmen defense that posted three straight shutouts to open postseason play, and 12 on the year.

Darian Cerin, Golden Valley, Senior

One of the bright spots for the Grizzlies this year, Cerin scored on a penalty kick in a 1-1 tie with Canyon in the league opener.

Samy Couja, Albert Einstein Academy, Sophomore

Couja scored 19 goals and assisted on 11 others, earning All-CIF honors in Division 7 and boosting the Rockets to their first-ever Omega League title.

Omar Gonzalez, Hart, Senior

Gonzalez scored four goals and had seven assists, the last of which came in Hart’s second round playoff loss to No. 1 seed Desert Mirage of Thermal.

Collin Infuso, Saugus, Senior

Infuso speaks to the depth of this year’s Saugus team. An offensive threat from the midfield, he scored four goals and dished out eight assists.

David Juico, Valencia, Senior

A staple on the Vikings’ backline, Juico often wasn’t on the stat sheet, but he was crucial to Valencia’s bid to repeat as Foothill League champions.

Jamie Ledesma, Canyon, Senior

Ledesma used his technical skill and high soccer IQ to lead the Cowboys midfield. He scored one goal and assisted on three.

Tyler Mendes, West Ranch, Senior

The other half of the Wildcats’ strong center midfield position, Mendes scored two goals this season.

Enrique Perez, Hart, Senior

Perez carried the Indians offensively in preleague play, scoring nine of his 11 goals. He also had four assists on the year.

Michael Valencia, Hart, Senior

It will be weird not to see Valencia when Hart takes the field next season. The four-year varsity senior scored five goals and assisted on two this year.

Ian Young, Valencia, sophomore

The precocious sophomore was a dynamic force in the Vikings’ midfield. He scored seven goals and added three assists.

Honorable mention

Canyon – Dylon Hartigan, senior

Einstein – Michael Hovsepian, freshman

Golden Valley – Pedro Hernandez, Senior

Hart – Luis Valadez, junior

Saugus – Frank Ornelas, Saugus sophomore

Trinity – Drew Black, senior

Valencia – Brennan Book, sophomore

West Ranch – Emilio Santamaria, Senior

SCCS – Billy Latch, Senior

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Mason Nesbitt
Mason Nesbitt is The Santa Clarita Valley Signal's Sports Editor.
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