What started as a father teaching his son about gun safety years ago has turned into a big collegiate opportunity for one local high school student-athlete.
John Milledge Academy senior Marshall Johnston signed Thursday to continue his clay target shooting career at the college level. Johnston will join the University of Alabama clay target club team in the fall while attending school as a business major.
Johnston had other offers on the table but had a specific reason for wanting to join the Crimson Tide.
“I really wanted to go to a big school,” he said. “I grew up in private school, so I wanted to see what it’s like to go to school with 40,000 kids.”
Johnston has competed in other sports (his senior baseball season was cut short) but found his mark when he tried his hand at shooting. The journey started the summer of his fifth-grade year, and his father-coach Steve Johnston said his son has grown “leaps and bounds” since then.
“He literally was gun shy when we started this,” his father said. “I was military for 15 years, so I didn’t really know how to deal with that. When we went out and tried it we had a great first experience and it was a great fit as a sport for Marshall.
“It’s been a fun process for both of us. The way I deal with things in competition is very different than how he does it. What I did along the way these last two years, I flipped it around and actually had him coach me. By him explaining things to me, I'm learning how his mind works, so that was great. There are times when the coach is telling you the right things, but you just don’t want to hear it. It helped me see things from his perspective.”
The Class of 2020 graduate takes an impressive shooting resumé with him to Tuscaloosa. Competing scholastically, Johnston has two varsity and three junior varsity state championships to his name. He capped off his high school career by earning his second All-State honor last fall, meaning he placed among the top 15 GISA shooters across the state. His high finish helped John Milledge take fourth place at the state competition. Johnston was the Trojans’ co-captain and was also named the team’s Most Valuable Shooter for the 2019 season.
Like most athletes who excel in their sport, Johnston does not just shoot competitively during the school season. He competes year-round with the Lake Oconee travel shotgun team, one that has won two-time defending national champion status on the circuit. Through that, he earned the opportunity to represent Georgia as an All-State team member at nationals last year where he consistently finished in the top 2 percent out of 3,000 shooters across different events. Johnston has also been chosen to the National Rifle Association (NRA)/Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP) National All-Scholastic Team the last three years. That recognition goes to shooters who consistently post good scores and good grades while participating in community service. Johnston is looking for a fourth selection to that team to complete a four-year sweep, but this year’s awards have not been announced as of yet.
Johnston’s knack for helping new/young shooters was mentioned during his signing ceremony held Thursday, so he is thinking about becoming a clay target coach upon completing college.
Since clay shooting is a club sport at Alabama, there are no tuition scholarships attached to Johnston’s offer. What he will receive, however, are scholarship funds through the team’s alumni that will help cover competition costs.