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Tomo Matsuo produced 17 goals and 12 assists for Austin High's boys soccer team, which posted a 16-8-1 record.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
Tomo Matsuo produced 17 goals and 12 assists for Austin High's boys soccer team, which posted a 16-8-1 record.

A Bear of a leader
Matsuo matures into role as Austin's soccer field general

By Bradley Handwerger 340-2462

Thumbs raised and a smile on his face, Tomo Matsuo mugged for a picture recently.

Though back in the United States, Matsuo said the setup stems from a recent trip home to Japan. It was there that he told his friends that raising a thumb is what Americans do.

Why wouldn't they believe him? After all, he's a natural-born leader.

Austin's boys soccer team found that out the past two seasons. And after scoring 17 goals and recording 12 assists during the 2007 soccer season and helping the Black Bears to a 16-8-1 record, Matsuo earned the respect of opposing teams.

Now he's The Decatur Daily's boys soccer player of the year, solidifying his name in local soccer lore as one of the best players in the area.

"There's no doubt in my mind, and I'm not trying to belittle any of the other players — there's some really good players in the county," Austin coach Lewis White said. "The one thing that makes him absolutely the best is he's so versatile. He is probably the best shooter, the best mid and probably the best defender.

"The only thing he's probably not the best thing in the city is at goalie, and he's probably in the top three."

Matsuo is the rare find in soccer. He's good enough to earn a college soccer scholarship — he has fielded interest from Memphis and UAB, among others — but he's turning that opportunity down to pursue an engineering degree at Alabama-Huntsville.

More importantly, he's not taking all of the credit for earning the player of the year.

"I think that the team helped me to play better," Matsuo said. "They listen to me. That made me play a lot better game than last year."

Matsuo said he relaxed more this year than in the past, largely because of his decision not to play collegiate soccer.

"I decided I wasn't going to play college at the beginning of the season," Matsuo said. "I told myself it's the last year playing soccer. So, I wanted to do good."

Austin didn't make the state playoffs out of stacked Class 6A, Section 8, which includes traditional powers Grissom and Bob Jones. But Matsuo, always looking for positives, said the season wasn't a loss because of the lack of a postseason berth.

Instead, he believes the experience is something that can propel his former teammates to greater things.

"Losing teaches you more in the game, I think, than winning the game," Matsuo said.

It's that belief system that Austin will miss next season, White said.

"I've got some good soccer players coming up next year, but we've probably gotten to the point that we rely on him a little too much," White said.

"He's going to be hard to replace."

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