When you know, you know.
That’s what Saniya Johnson said about her recent verbal commitment to Mississippi State. The Gardendale girls soccer star has been a staple in the Rockets’ lineup since her eighth-grade year in 2017.
As a freshman, Johnson punched in a dramatic game-winning goal to knock off Pell City in the quarterfinals of the Class 6A playoffs. Despite her freshman status, then-head coach Jason Swam chose her to take the free kick in extra time, and she delivered with a walk-off goal that sent Gardendale into the semifinals and eventually ensued in the school’s first state finals appearance.
Johnson’s junior year has been cut short by the current public health crisis.
Aside from her high school team, she also competes on the club circuit for the Birmingham United Soccer Association.
“Saniya has been a rock in the back four, logging almost 90 minutes every game at center back,” said AFC coach Andrew Brower. “She possesses great athleticism, is an excellent one-on-one defender and never cedes possession of the ball once she takes it from the opponent.”
According to Johnson, Mississippi State was the obvious choice for several reasons.
“MSU is led by a great coaching staff that will not only help me become a better player, but a better person,” said Johnson. “Everything you could possibly want in a school and team is there. MSU fits my personal style of play and has a loving family environment that exceeds expectations.”
Browner, her club coach for the past four years, describes Johnson as a top-notch teammate and ‘a coach’s dream.’ Her technical development has been obvious.
“She has worked very hard to drastically improve technically on the ball and she will be a tremendous asset for the Bulldogs, as her best soccer is still years ahead,” said Browner.
Mississippi State will have to wait for another year, as Johnson closes out her junior year with the Rockets, but by all accounts, she’s bound for Starkville.
“I honestly didn’t know what people meant when they said ‘When you know, you know,’ but that truly explains my experience,” said Johnson.