By Blair Weaver
COLUMBIA — Junior Matt Kelly made the junior varsity soccer team his freshmen year. But half way into the season, head coach Kyle Austin bumped him up to varsity.
“I was really nervous since I was the only freshman, “ Kelly said. “I was thrown into the mix, but I learned to fight.”
Kelly has had his ups and downs with Rock Bridge soccer since, but he now is the varsity team’s leading scorer.
He scored three goals in four games his freshman year. His sophomore year, however, he did not have the same successes — Kelly refers to it as his “slump year.”
“I just wasn’t prepared for the season,” he said. “It took me about half of the season to get into my groove.”
Having been a freshman on varsity led to high expectations.
“He put a lot of pressure on himself,” Austin said. “He struggled, but he never gave up.”
Now in his junior year, Kelly is Rock Bridge’s top scorer. He’s managed to bounce right back into the varsity mentality, scoring 12 goals in 12 games this season, along with three assists.
Kelly was responsible for the Bruins’ clutch goal in double overtime against Moberly, back-to-back goals against Quincy Notre Dame and two goals and an assist against Kirkwood, but that’s just to name a few. Kelly leads Rock Bridge’s second-highest scorer by nine goals. With his goal-hungry attitude, he somehow still plays with much composure and modesty.
“He’s faster and stronger. He’s more skilled and is using the potential that he has,” Austin said. “He’s learned how and when to use his body. He’s not playing with raw athleticism and is the best on the field out of both teams every night.”
Kelly sees himself as a smarter and more confident player than he was two years ago. His experiences from high school and club-soccer have contributed to his level of improvement.
Since Austin has been coaching Kelly longer than any other player on the team, he has gotten to know the ins and outs of Kelly’s playing style.
“Matt’s one of the most coachable kids I have on the team,” Austin said. “He’s very smart and really understands the game. I usually only have to give him small critiques, and he instantly registers it and quickly changes it on the field.”
Despite knowing Kelly as a player, Austin has also realized that the “non-soccer player” side of Kelly is just as appealing.
“He’s just a great kid, the epitome of a student athlete. He excels in school, everybody loves him, he comes from a great family and is the class clown,” Austin said. “Although he’s a great soccer player, he’s so involved and well-liked that soccer isn’t even what he’s most known for at school.”
Besides soccer, Kelly stays involved in Student Council and K-Life, a community-wide Christian ministry.
Through the highs of his freshman and junior years to the low of his sophomore year, Austin looks at Kelly as a team leader on and off the field.
“He’s really stepped up. He’s the first to pump everyone up when the team is down and is a vocal and emotional leader,” Austin said. “He’s stayed very humble and grounded for everything he’s got going for him.”