The Lady Tigers soccer team did not qualify for the Southwest Athletic Conference tournament last season, and one freshman player is determined to reinvent their game to guarantee that the team will make the cut next season.
“I want to be different, be fit and be the star person on the field,” said Savannah John, a freshman mass communication major from London. “My coach has seen a video of me playing in England, and it is not the person he sees here, and I see that too.”
John has been playing soccer since she was 7, but has learned that there is a big difference between playing in England and in America.
“I thought I could come out here and be the same way I was in England,” said John. “But, obviously I can’t. It’s not as easy here as it was in England. The players here are much more physical.”
Although soccer is more popular in England, John learned she would have to change her game to be more compatible with the Lady Tigers. She knows she has to improve her acceleration, explosion and endurance skills to help her team be victorious in the future.
The Lady Tigers had a disappointing season, with a record of 0-10-2. They were unable to win a game and finished at the bottom of the SWAC. John believes that the Lady Tigers are more than capable of performing better, but did not apply their talents effectively.
John used to dominate players when she played for the Fulham Girls Center of Excellence and Middlesex FA. For a 16-year-old, she was bigger and stronger than most girls she competed against. But the size and talent levels of players evened out when she came to Grambling State. The power moves she used in England didn’t work as well against the stronger and more physical college-level players. Most of the time, John appeared to be just “playing with the ball” instead of making concise moves that would lead to goals.
Coach Totty O. Totty, the head soccer coach, explained that John must revamp her old moves and improve her execution and acceleration to pass her opponents.
“She is what coaches call a ‘Coach’s Dream’,” said Coach Totty. “A player that is coachable, someone who wants to learn. She is dedicated to work hard and committed to do all her school work.”
In addition to skill development, John wants to improve her endurance and has created a strict daily workout. In high school, she was never the type of athlete who voluntarily went running or weight lifting, mostly because it wasn’t required.
John changed her lifestyle: she runs the Eddie G. Robinson stadium steps with her teammates, does cardio and abdominal workouts in her room, watches what she eats, and participates on the bowling team for GSU.
“(This is) something I never had to do before, which is kind of bad for an athlete,” said John. “I am happy. I am learning how to be fit and an all-around player.”
John appreciates the opportunity to play soccer for Grambling State because there was a time when she did not even want to come to the university.
Coach Totty had to win over not only John but her parents as well. Since John would be only 16 years old when she arrived at Grambling, he had to convince her parents she would be safe and well taken care off.
“Her parents were a little bit concerned if’ she would be able to (survive) such a long distance from home,” said Coach Totty. “Her father was familiar with the legend of Grambling, and wanted her to experience it.”
He emphasized the importance of a quality education and the uniqueness of the opportunity. Coach Totty wanted John to give Grambling a chance, and if she did not like it after a year, she could always return home.
“Originally, I did not want to come here at all,” said John. She contemplated the idea for several months.
In her last year at Holland Park School in London, she hit her “lowest point” as an athlete. She injured her ankle, lost her passion for soccer, and began to focus more on other talents, like acting and radio hosting.
The opportunity to play for Grambling State was timed imperfectly. John’s family had traveled to Grenada, a small island in the Caribbean, for her grandfather’s funeral in 2012. While visiting, Coach Glean, a soccer coach from Grenada, contacted her on Facebook and wanted to meet with her and her father.
Coach Marlon Glean was good friends and old teammates of Coach Totty, who was then the new head soccer coach and needed players. Coach Glean remembered her playing when she was 11 at a soccer camp in Grenada, and watched her development over the years, and wanted to make his statement from six years earlier come true.
Coach Glean told John she had what it took to play at the collegiate level in the United States. Since she still had many years before that point, she returned to London and continued to improve.
When John returned to Grenada for the funeral nearly six years later, she wasn’t thinking about a scholarship and an opportunity to play, but Coach Glean was.
Regardless of the high praises, John was filled with self-doubt. Were it not for her father and high school advisor, Andrea James, she might not have decided to attend the university.
“Even roses have thorns,” James John, her father, said in a telephone interview. He said attending Grambling State University was an opportunity that John could not pass up, although she was going to have to tackle some hardships throughout her journey.
“(Savannah) is blessed to have this opportunity,” James John said. “A lot of opportunities can come from this experience.”