Prep soccer: Stansbury exchange student becomes surprising star
Stansbury Park • After all the things he has learned from them, Reo Fujimaki is trying to return the favor to his Stansbury soccer teammates. The Stallions are eager students, lingering after practice to learn a chant in Fujimaki's native Japanese.
"Stallions, one, two, three" has proven a challenge for Stansbury's players as they try to adapt slightly to Fujimak. The Japanese exchange student has quickly accustomed himself to them and soccer, a game he never played in an organized setting before coming to the United States.
In short order, Fujimaki has become one of the Stallions' best players. A speedy defenseman, he was named a captain by coach Brandon Andersen and has been a bright spot while the Stallions started the season 1-3.
"We all actually thought he'd played soccer before," senior forward Brett Ware said. "And then he said this was his first year. It's been inspiring."
Fujimaki joined the team in mid-November, two weeks into winter conditioning, but no one realized what kind of player he would be until the team began drills.
"He came out here and declared himself with his aggressiveness, his speed and his overall game," Andersen said.
In Japan, Fujimaki was mandated to commit to one sport. He chose track and field, where he put his speed to use as a hurdler.
It has translated well to soccer, Andersen said.
"If he misses that first step, he's going to go catch you with that second or third step," he said.
Ware said Fujimaki has made several big defensive one-on-one plays, potentially saving goals.
The Stallions' leaders, including Fujimaki, acknowledge the junior doesn't quite understand the nuances of the game, but is able to overcome them with his natural athleticism.
Fujimaki said his biggest obstacle has been the language barrier.
"I don't know what Coach says," he said. "Soccer words, I do not know."
That has meant many one-on-one sessions with Andersen, who has been eager to help his surprise star along.
When Andersen or teammates yell instruction in games, rarely is it clearly received.
"I don't think in English," Fujimaki said. "I focus on playing soccer."
It's a focus that's been welcome for Andersen. Ten starters from last year's Stansbury squad opted against playing for the Stallions in favor of a local club team.
It left Stansbury with a lot of holes, as well as many opportunities for young players to step up. Seven Stallion starters are freshmen or sophomores.
The biggest, and most pleasant, surprise for Stansbury, though, has been Fujimaki. As an exchange student, he will only play this year, before returning to Japan.
"It's depressing," Andersen said, "because you only find kids like that so often."
Reo Fujimaki file
Stansbury captain Reo Fujimaki is a Japanese exchange student who, before this season, never played organized soccer.
Fujimaki is a fast defender who has made several key plays for the Stallions, who entered the week 1-3.
Stansbury next plays Friday, April 1, at 3:30 p.m. at Olympus.