When Bryce Johnson ’21 was initially spotted as a high school player by Amherst men’s soccer head coach Justin Serpone, he wasn’t showing off his speed, tackling or foot skills.
Johnson started playing soccer at the age of five, but it was his passion for another sport that taught him the mechanics of the famous “flip throw” that first caught Serpone’s eye.
“I did gymnastics when I was little,” said Johnson, “so I could already do the front handspring. When I was 9 years old, I decided to give flip throwing a shot.” The flip throw, which adds velocity and power through centripetal force, extends the viable range of the throw-in and transforms it into a set piece.
The long throw has been a defining feature of several successful teams, most notably the 2016 Iceland national squad which, against all odds, used the power of Aron Gunnarsson’s throw to stun the world. The flip throw, however, is uniquely utilized by Johnson.
This year’s Mammoths are glad Johnson developed the skill; Johnson has started in 13 of 14 games this year, helping lead Amherst to a 12-0-2 record, first place in the NESCAC, and the No. 1 overall ranking in DIII soccer. Johnson is a fan favorite; his throws can travel up to 70 yards, making throw-ins at midfield a genuine scoring opportunity.
Johnson played two seasons at a developmental academy before playing club soccer in Plano, Texas. It was at a Peak Performance Academy soccer camp that Serpone first began to recruit him, and by August 2017, Johnson was a first-year on an Amherst squad coming off of a national championship victory during the previous season.
“As a freshman, I would say that the whole senior class was very welcoming and they made me feel like I was a part of the team from the get-go,” Johnson said. He made an immediate impact, starting 13 of 19 games in 2017. His most vivid memory of the season came on an October weekend when the Mammoths played Tufts and Rutgers-Newark back to back.
“They were both ranked teams, so that was one of our biggest weekends of the year,” said Johnson. “We beat Tufts 1-0, and then won against Rutgers-Newark 2-1 in overtime.” What Johnson failed to mention was the fact that he scored the game-winning goal against Tufts and added a crucial assist in the Rutgers-Newark game.
Fast forward two years, and Johnson has grown into the shoes of the leaders and mentors he first played with as a first year. When asked about Amherst’s undefeated record, Johnson gave the credit to effort and team chemistry: “We’ve done a great job bringing it every game with high energy and focus. We’re gelling as a unit right now.”
On Saturday, Oct. 12, the Mammoths passed their biggest test of this season, dethroning the formerly No. 1 ranked Tufts Jumbos. “It felt pretty good,” said Johnson, “especially because they beat us twice last year and knocked us out of the NCAA tournament.”
Johnson isn’t just a gymnast or a soccer player; a current economics and Spanish major, he’s finding Amherst to be a substantial, yet rewarding, academic challenge. “As long as you do your work and stay on top of things,” said Johnson, “it’s not too bad. My priority is academics, and I like the liberal arts aspect of Amherst.”
Whether studying economics in the classroom, catapulting flip throws on Hitchcock Field or answering questions for The Student, Johnson carries himself with humility and purpose, and will continue to do the same as the men’s soccer team pursues a NESCAC title and a DIII National Championship title.