Noah Johnson, a parishioner of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ellicott City and senior at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, won a Madden NFL 20 Challenge in Redwood City, Calif., Feb. 1. (Courtesy EA Sports)
“When I was younger, I always played video games,” said Noah Johnson, 17, a member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Ellicott City and senior at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville. “When I learned you could make money doing it, I took it more seriously.”
It’s not a sentence most parents would be thrilled to hear, but then most high-school students don’t come home with $35,000 after a few days of “work.”
“He’s a good student,” said Shelley Johnson of her son, who came up through OLPH School, itself a winner, designated a Blue Ribbon School by the state of Maryland. “He doesn’t have all that much free time.”
Between worship at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, three AP classes at DeMatha, a spot on the Stags’ baseball team, Howard County rec league basketball and entertaining his younger sister, Ava, Noah Johnson found the time to, as he put it, “perfect my craft” and become the youngest-ever winner of Madden NFL 20 Challenge.
The tournament held Jan. 30 to Feb. 1 in Redwood City, Calif., pitted the country’s top players of Madden NFL 20 for $190,000 in prize money. For the uninitiated, Madden NFL 20 is best described as a “football video game.”
Playing as the Philadelphia Eagles, his favorite real-life team, Johnson not only took the top prize, he was the youngest in the event’s history to do so. Furthermore, by winning the Madden Challenge belt, he earned a spot at the Madden Bowl in April, with a prize pool of $220,000.
The Our Lady of Perpetual Help community took great interest in Johnson’s play at Madden Challenge, his mother noted.
“We got a lot of comments from the parish and school – people were dialed in,” Shelley Johnson said. “They were not ‘video game people,’ so it was sort of fascinating for them.”
Matt Malone, principal of Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, where Ava is in the fourth grade, sent a note of support.
“They got to see a different side of Noah,” Shelley Johnson continued. “He is normally quiet and reserved. He got a lot of comments about his passion and focus.”
She added that her family has been part of the Our Lady of Perpetual Help faith community for more than 20 years.
“It’s always been something we value – the relationships, camaraderie and spirit,” she said.
He maintains a 4.0 GPA at DeMatha, where school counselor Theo Garrett said, “As quiet as he keeps, he can no longer fly under the radar.”
Noah Johnson said Madden NFL 20 requires a mixture of strategy and “stick work,” or dexterity with the controller.
“I like football,” he said. “That’s what drew me to (the video game) at an early age.”
He was thrilled to have the support of his parish and former school.
“I loved it,” he said of his time with the latter. “The community was small compared to a public school. I’m still friends with most of the people in my class and the teachers.”
The trip to California was eye-opening for both him and his mother. The majority of the competitors were professional gamers who earn a living via such tournaments.
As for Johnson, if video games don’t pan out, there is always college. When he returned from California, an acceptance letter from the University of Maryland was waiting for him. He said he hopes to study business in College Park.
ESPN2 will air a segment on the Madden Challenge Sunday, Feb. 9, at 11 a.m.