Most normal people usually avoid having objects hit them at 90 mph. Chris Johnson is not a normal person.
Johnson, the goalie for the Rock Bridge lacrosse team, loves what he does. Almost every day, a rubber ball that can reach speeds of 90 mph or more hits him. It takes a special kind of person to want to take such punishment day in and day out.
Rock Bridge coach Ben Smith said these people make the best goalies.
“You know they always say it’s supposed to be the best athlete, but I just think it’s the craziest guy on the team,” Smith said.
Johnson defends his home goal for the last time at 5:30 p.m. today at Cosmopolitan Park against Shawnee Mission.
Johnson, a senior, said maybe he was a little crazy but being hit hurts. When Johnson started lacrosse his sophomore year, it took him more than a year to get used to the shots. Johnson said he gets bruises that are 6 inches in diameter, but experience helps numb the pain.
“It’s not like it used to be where it’d be almost hampering,” Johnson said. “You’d get hit that first time and you just stop playing for a little while and you have to rest.
“My second year, I had played so much over the summer that it hit me and I’d shake it off.”
Johnson said it takes more than insanity to be a good goalie.
“You also have to be dedicated enough to be like, ‘No matter what they throw at me, I’m going to stand there and try and stop it with everything I’ve got,’” Johnson said.
Lacrosse goalies need to become accustomed to hits because their padding offers little protection. Goalies, like other players, wear helmets, shoulder pads and gloves. Extra protection comes in the form of a neck guard, chest protector, an extra-large stick and thumb pads.
Johnson said the more hits he took the better he became. At first, he used to shy away from the hit, but now he uses every body part to make the save. He said sometimes the way a person reacts to a shot is indicative of his experience.
“A lot of goalies you’ll see duck when they’re young because they’d rather let the goal in than get hit,” Johnson said. “You start seeing guys progress. They’d rather get hit than let the goal in.”
In practice, Johnson said he is more likely to duck but he almost never does in a game. Adrenaline helps him build the courage to stay in front of balls.
To be a successful goalie, it takes more than bravery. Good positioning and quick reflexes are important. Johnson said if the goalie is in the right position, he could make the shot go where he wants to.
Repetition helps Johnson get used to shots coming from all directions. Johnson relies on Kyle Blaeuer to warm him up by shooting from spots around the crease taking seven to 12 shots from each.
“Reaction time, that’s the main thing we try to teach our goalies,” Smith said. “When we warm them up we go to the same spot every time so that they react the same way to a shot coming to that same spot.”
Johnson said the warm-up helps him because wherever a ball is shot from he knows where it is headed. He also stresses the importance of keeping his eyes on the ball. He said he never takes his eyes off the ball even if it is in the player’s pocket. These activities make Johnson’s response to a shot almost automatic.
“You see that ball come across,” Johnson said. “Your eyes, your pupils get wide, everything gets wide and you just focus on that one little point in the stick.”
Being a goalie in lacrosse is not only blocking shots. Johnson said he runs the defense. He calls out position, decides who is the help, directs the clears and calls stick checks.
One time during a game, the opposing goalie launched a ball across the field. It bounced toward Johnson and as he moved forward to scoop the ball, it bounced over his shoulder and into the goal. Johnson later heard his opponents put the play on a highlight tape.
Johnson said letting in a goal is the worst thing about being a goalie. Although he hates it, he does not let it get to him.
“You have to remember in lacrosse they’re going to score all the time,” Johnson said. “So you’ve just got to keep your mind off of it and say, ‘Hey, we’ll just get the next one.’”