Wesley Chapel resident Jonny Robinson talks almost as fast as he runs.
As the 10-year-old finishes up putting another ball in the back of the net during a camp at the Wesley Chapel District Park, he races over to his mother Alena to breathlessly tell her he scored a free kick, and a penalty kick, and five other goals.
A few minutes later, he is talking about how dribbling is his favorite part of soccer. When it’s pointed out that he couldn’t wait to tell Alena about his goals, he points out that, “Yes, but of four of those goals, three were from dribbling.”
Jonny is a whirling dervish of activity — chatty, happy and eager to keep moving around, a soccer ball always at his feet.
“He is always happy when he’s on the pitch,” says Alena. “I’ve never seen him not happy when he’s playing.”
Which is, well, pretty much always.
His dedication to the game has helped lead Jonny to what will probably make him happiest of all — a spot in the 2020 Real Madrid Foundation Clinics World Challenge in early April of 2020.
Jonny was one of two boys selected to represent the United States from April 2-10, 2020, on the grounds of the Real Madrid soccer team training facility in Madrid, Spain.
Alena says Jonny was named MVP of the camp in Orlando, where he was picked from a group of roughly 50 other 10-year-old kids to go to Madrid.
The Madrid tournament will cover four days, with 64 teams and 700 players from around the world competing.
“I feel very motivated and very excited,” Jonny says.
Ironically, Jonny’s favorite soccer team is Real Madrid’s most bitter rival – Barcelona FC.
When Jonny was 6, he happened across the 2015 UEF Champions League Final between Barcelona and Juventus (Italy), and he was hooked.
Neymar became his favorite player after scoring the last goal in a 3-1 win, and Barcelona became Jonny’s favorite soccer team. He wanted to learn how to play himself.
“I was playing tee ball, and didn’t really like it,” Jonny says. “My grandma said, “you guys got Jonny wrong, he’s supposed to be playing soccer.’”
At first, it was a difficult transition. Alena says that Jonny’s first season was nearly a disaster.
“He was just running after kids, having fun,” she says. “We told him to go take the ball away (from the other players), and one time he literally took the ball with his hands and said ‘Look, Mom, I got the ball!’”
Jonny stuck with it, however. A summer league at the Wesley Chapel District Park unlocked his fervor for the game, and ever since, he has been working hard at perfecting his skills.
Alena says Jonny will sometimes wake up and immediately run some shuttle cone drills (to improve his bursts of speed), go to his private coach, head off to camp, work on his shots at home in his front yard and then go to a team practice.
“He lives and breathes soccer,” she says. “He never once says he’s tired, or that he doesn’t want to do it.”
A fifth-grader at Watergrass Elementary, Jonny’s bedroom walls are decorated with pictures and posters of his favorite team and player.
“There is no room anywhere for anything else,” he says proudly.
Alena and Jonny’s father Sean have fed their son’s love of the game. They never miss an international friendly when one is played nearby, and two years ago, they took Jonny to Russia to watch Neymar play for Brazil, his native country, against Costa Rica.
“That was a joy,” Jonny says. “He scored a last-minute goal to win the game. I like that Brazilian style, where he dribbles the whole field and then there’s this crazy goal. Inside, I’m like, ‘Wow.’”
Jonny would like to follow in Neymar’s footsteps, which is why his trip in April is so exciting for him. He plays club soccer for Florida Premier, but thinks it would be awesome to play at one of the youth academies in Europe.
He will get more than a little taste of that next year in Madrid.
“We think this is a huge honor,” Alena says. “It’s a huge responsibility to represent your country, and such a unique opportunity. We are all super excited.”
Jonny nods his head in agreement.
Then he drops his soccer ball to his feet, and they are off, dribbling towards the next challenge.