Signal Mountain’s Benjamin Burns branches out to lead team to soccer semifinals

May 26—MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — With his college plans secure, Signal Mountain senior Benjamin Burns decided to branch out in his final season of high school.

Golf is Burns’ primary sport, as he finished his career with three consecutive Small Class state championships in the fall, and had three individual top-10 finishes for the Eagles from 2017-19. He also chose to start playing basketball again his final year, but that only got him through the winter. How would he spend his spring?

By going back to soccer, a sport he hadn’t played since middle school.

Turns out, he’s solid there as well, as he was a piece of a backline that shut out a Madison Magnet team 2-0 in the TSSAA Class A state quarterfinals at the Richard Siegel Soccer Complex Tuesday afternoon.

Signal head coach Richard Northcutt is all about players from other sports coming to play soccer. He once was a basketball player as well, before going to college at Tennessee Wesleyan and playing soccer, where he became a standout goalkeeper. But Burns’ decision — which didn’t come until three days before the season opener — was his choice, with some prodding from fellow senior teammates Joseph Nemec and team captain Sam Poss.

It took awhile to knock the rust off, considering he hadn’t played since eighth grade. He still wonders if he’s back, but he’s confident he’s been helpful.

“I’m still working on my foot skills every day,” Burns, who will attend Division III Middlebury College for golf in the fall, said. “I just try to bring my athleticism from basketball and even golf to the field, and that’s how I try to help the team, with foot skills and shooting and kind of the soccer-specific stuff.

“I try to work on those things every day, but really I’m just there to be a leader and using my athleticism to win balls in the air is what I’ve really tried to do.”

With COVID-19 taking away all but one match last season, Northcutt was already looking at an entirely new roster as it stood. He knew he would be starting over, so bringing in a player such as Burns, who did score a goal in the sectional victory, wouldn’t hurt and would perhaps help if he could recapture what skills he previously had. Burns’ key skill was defending and that’s what the final 20 minutes became Tuesday for Signal (12-3-3), matching up against a Madison team — on a 14-game win streak — that had only been shut out once this year. Poss had given the Eagles the lead on a penalty-kick in the 48th minute, while a miscommunication by the Madison defense led to an easy goal for Mats Damman four minutes later.

“He’s been a really strong defender for us, doing the things defenders do: win balls, clear balls, pass to our team,” Northcutt said. “It’s going pretty well, I think.”

The next challenge for the Eagles is Gatlinburg-Pittman, who had a much easier time in its quarterfinal with a 9-0 win over Memphis East.

“We had a lot of nervous energy coming into the state tournament and I think it’s a lot of our first timers playing in the state tournament,” Burns said. “This first win and just being able to get into the semifinals is huge for us.”

Contact Gene Henley at Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.

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