High School Sports

Masaki Matsumoto rejuvenated after rocky transition to Lincoln football coach

New Lincoln football coach Masaki Matsumoto on a mission

Masaki Matsumoto takes over the Lincoln Abes football program for Jon Kitna with a lot of expectations surrounding him. He spent the past three years as the head coach at Hollywood Bernstein in Los Angeles. http://www.thenewstribune.com/sports/hig
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Masaki Matsumoto takes over the Lincoln Abes football program for Jon Kitna with a lot of expectations surrounding him. He spent the past three years as the head coach at Hollywood Bernstein in Los Angeles. http://www.thenewstribune.com/sports/hig

Masaki Matsumoto said he recently took a week off before his first official practice as Lincoln High School’s head football coach on Wednesday.

And by off, what he really meant was he traveled back to California to visit some high school football programs for inspiration and rejuvenation.

“I came back more excited that I have been I would say in the past two to three months,” Matsumoto said.

“I think it has been a lot harder than what I expected. I don’t think it has anything to do with Lincoln. I think it is just transition in general. I think transition is hard and I think coming from a successful place and going to a successful place is hard because there is that clash.”

Matsumoto, or Coach Mat as the players and coaches have referred to him, comes from a successful program at Hollywood Bernstein in Los Angeles to what has turned into a successful program in the past three years at Lincoln under alum Jon Kitna, the former Seattle Seahawks quarterback who left to take over Waxahachie High School in Texas.

Matsumoto said his biggest challenge is the give-and-take of getting players to buy into his system, and adapting to what they’ve already had success with.

The offense should look similar, spreading out the field and creating space for a crop of good receivers, led by Alvin Johnson and Tony Archie. But one assistant coach said there are about 140 plays now compared to the 400 Kitna had last season.

For the most part, the transition has been seamless, which impressed some players considering the shoes Matsumoto is stepping in to.

He has brought with him many of the same philosophies Kitna had in character building and said Lincoln’s low-income, intercity community has many similarities to that of what he faced at Hollywood Bernstein.

As Wednesday’s practice wrapped up and before players headed for dinner prepared for them at the school, Matsumoto introduced a group of players as the team’s Agape Leaders.

“Agape is the highest love that you can have, which is unconditional, selfless and sacrificial,” Matsumoto said. “We want our leaders to be guys who are willing to serve, just like a good husband would want to serve his wife and kids.

“Just like I told our Agape Leaders this morning, I think the world does a crappy job of telling you what a leader is. They tell you to be a cool, macho guy. You have to play girls and boss people around. That’s not what a real man is. A real man is selfless, puts others first and is willing to serve, and to do that you have to love. That’s why they are called Agape Leaders. I want them to love the team so much, they will put the team before themselves.”

Senior running back Dionte Simon, one of those Agape Leaders, was part of a player committee, along with Johnson and Archie among others, that helped interview Matsumoto for the position.

“At first, it was a little tough adjusting to be honest,” Simon said. “But now, I don’t feel any different with him than I did with Coach Kitna. It’s the same stuff, just different words and coming from a different person.”

The difference, the players say, is that Matsumoto is more calm.

But that was tough to tell Wednesday. His shouts rang throughout Lincoln Bowl.

“Don’t walk!”

“Give me five (pushups). Now! … You too!”

“He’s more calm over the little things,” said junior quarterback Joey Sinclair. “Big things, Coach Mat will still get on us.”

One thing Matsumoto didn’t do was announce plans to make Lincoln relevant in the state within five years, and nationally within 10. He said he’s never cared about wins and losses.

“You hear from kids and some of the people around the program, ‘Oh, well, this is what we did last year.’ Or, ‘Oh, well, we didn’t do this last year,’” Matsumoto said. “But that is natural. For the most part, they have been great. They’ve been supportive and they let me do what I do. And I don’t put pressure on myself in terms of wins and ‘I need to be relevant in five years or this and that.’ Because you can’t control that.

“All you can control is your attitude and effort and I just try to really work hard to prepare these kids for success – on and off the field.

“Any pressure that does come is not coming from the community, it’s not coming from the kids, it’s coming from me. I want to do a good job.”

TJ Cotterill:253-597-8677

t.cotterill@thenewstribune.com

@TJCotterill

The News Tribune will visit 17 high school football practices in the 14 days leading up to the first Football Friday of the season, breaking down some of the teams, players and storylines entering the 2015-16 season.

The tour will include three schools from the 4A Narrows League, four teams from the 4A SPSL, two from the 3A Narrows League, two from the 3A SPSL, one from the 2A Evergreen Conference, two from the 2A SPSL, one from the 1A Evergreen, one from the 1A Nisqually and one from the 2B Pacific.

Teams will be revealed each day, starting with the first day of official practices Wednesday, Aug. 19.

TNT PRESEASON PRACTICE TOUR

Practice preview: South Sound’s four most illustrious 4A schools enter new eras

Aug. 19: Timberline Blazers

Lincoln Abes | Video: Masaki Matsumoto on a mission

River Ridge Hawks

Chief Leschi Warriors

Aug. 20: Bonney Lake Panthers | Video: Panthers have pieces in place

Aug. 21: Federal Way Eagles | Video: D’Jimon Jones, Andrzej Hughes-Murray stepping up

Aug. 22: Kentlake Falcons

Aug. 24: Spanaway Lake Sentinels | Video: Big guys key for Sentinels’ season

Aug. 25: Emerald Ridge Jaguars | Video: Can new players bring ER similar success?

Aug. 26: Black Hills Wolves

Aug. 27: Stadium Tigers | Video: Don’t expect same 0-10 Tigers

Aug. 28: Yelm Tornados

Aug. 29: Clover Park Warriors

Aug. 31: Mount Tahoma Thunderbirds

Sept. 1: Eatonville Cruisers

Sept. 2: Charles Wright Tarriers

Sept. 3: 3A SPSL

Sept. 4: First Football Friday of the 2015-16 school year

LEAGUE-BY-LEAGUE PREVIEWS

In-depth look at some of the top storylines, team-by-team breakdown, games to watch and predictions from the 4A Narrows, 4A SPSL, 3A Narrows, 3A SPSL, 2A SPSL, and 1A Nisqually, as well as capsules from other area small-school teams.

4A Narrows: Olympia will compete for playoff spot, like always

4A SPSL: Coming Friday

3A Narrows: Is that Xavier Cooper? Or Wilson’s A.J. Ruffin?

3A SPSL: Lakes cousins Jaiave Magalei and Maika Magalei might as well be brothers

2A SPSL: Coming Thursday

1A Nisqually: Capsules Thursday. Story Saturday.

Small schools: Coming Thursday

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