<
>

Voices Of The Future -- U.S. Defender Julie Johnston's Rise From Unused Sub To World Cup Star

It's July 5, 2015, and Julie Johnston has an American flag wrapped around her shoulders with her arms raised in victory. She has just finished playing every minute of every game for the U.S. women's national team during its run to the country's third World Cup victory.

As her teammates and a nation celebrate around her, Johnston soaks in the moment. A moment that no one would have expected her to experience not long ago -- not even Johnston herself.

Only nine months earlier, Johnston had left a different field not in jubilation, but dejection.

The U.S. had capped off a 6-0 win against Costa Rica in the 2014 CONCACAF Women's Championship final to earn a place in the following summer's World Cup. Johnston watched the whole thing from the bench.

While thrilled for her team, she couldn't shake the feeling that she could do better.

"It was an eye-opening experience about what I actually wanted," Johnston says. "What I wanted more than anything was to be a part of this team."

After the tournament, she made Philadelphia her home base -- her boyfriend, Zach Ertz, is a tight end for the Eagles -- and started making changes.

She committed herself to a rigorous training regimen, going so far as to write down her daily schedule on a piece of paper, outlining every moment from 7:30 a.m. to dinnertime.

Serendipitously enough, the move to the East Coast also put her a short distance from teammate Carli Lloyd in New Jersey. Soon, Johnston was working out alongside one of the best footballers in the world.

"Carli let me train with her. I got her sense of training," Johnston says. "I found people that were willing to push me. I was like, 'These are my goals. I need you to get me here.' I don't need any excuses. I won't make any excuses. I'm over making excuses."

Throughout the winter of 2014, Johnston eyed the USWNT's next camp in January, and made herself accountable in every way, from what she ate to setting goals that once seemed too far-fetched to reach.

"It was like, 'I'm gonna go do 10 sprints.' Now I switched my number to 25, which I was like, 'All right, I don't care if I have to rest for 30 minutes, I'm going to finish these 25,'" she says.

Everything was leading up to January 5, the day Johnston would enter a 21-day training camp with the national team in Carson, California.

"That was my marker point," she says. "Here's a new me and I want the coaches to see that."

"The environment certainly pushed JJ," says USWNT head coach Jill Ellis. "But her innate competitiveness helped her persevere to be ready when opportunity arose."

And the rest is what we all saw this summer: Johnston not only made the 23-woman World Cup roster, but she was eventually named a starter and became an integral part of the stellar backline that helped lift the United States to its first World Cup in 15 years.

Johnston's transformation from an unused sub to starter to star took less than a year, though it didn't happen without drive and determination.

"Everything happens for a reason," she says, "if you work hard for it."