With his freshman year coming to a close, Washington University’s Sean Connors has settled in as a midfield presence and thrived as Tokyo’s student-athlete ambassador in St. Louis.
Born to an American father and Japanese mother, Connors was nearly destined for confusion while growing up in the heart of Japan. As if the unique name amongst his peers wasn’t enough, add in heavy influence of the American culture from the school he grew up attending and you’ve got a recipe for internal crisis.
“I went to American Institute in Japan,” Connors said. “It’s kind of cool because I went to the American School and my parents wanted [Connors and his siblings] to come to the U.S. Probably 90-ish percent of the people I graduated with moved to the U.S.”
In fact, Connors childhood was similar to the childhood many in the United States grow up with.
“Growing up, most kids played soccer and baseball in Japan,” Connors said. “I was way better at soccer. I was terrible at baseball but I played it because all of my friends did.”
Growing up with shin guards on eventually paid off. On the field, Connors was used to turning heads and early in high school he unknowingly caught an eye that paved the way for the rest of his life.
“I had Sean in my group at a Cal-Berkley camp after his sophomore year in high school,” said Washington University Head Coach Joe Clarke. “He was the best player in the group, if not the whole camp. I stayed in touch with him afterward and he turned out to be a very good student and had interest in education in the states. I got lucky.”
At the time of the camp, Connors was focused on a college career in the United States, but far from the midwest.
“I actually had never heard of WashU,” Connors said. “Coach [Clarke] was there and I didn’t think about it until late into my junior year. I found out it was an amazing school so I did my visit and decided that summer.”
Venturing nearly 6,400 miles to go to school may have been enough to intimidate some, but Connors seemed impervious to usual worries.
“I didn’t feel any pressure to leave,” Connors said. ”I feel like Tokyo is the same as here. It was just something I wanted to do. I knew I would be leaving, deciding what school was the hard part.”
Fresh off the plane Connors took the field and coach Clarke noticed an adjustment taking place.
“College soccer in the U.S. is more physical than the game overseas,” Clarke said. “The rules are the same, but there’s unlimited substitutions. Teams that you play will make 25 substitutions to make the game as fast as they can. Because the game is much more physical, the refs don’t call the game as close so there’s major adjustments for many players.”
Connors echoed the size difference, making a note of a difference that worked in his favor.
“The sport is so much more straightforward in Japan,” Connors said. “The pace of play is much slower here. We’re smaller over there and the game is a lot faster in Japan.”
While thrown into the fire right out of the gate with soccer, Connors was able to roll with the punches of the new continent by playing a sport he excelled at. Off the field his teammates made him feel just as welcome.
“Everybody definitely made it easier to adjust because I had the team around me,” Connors said. “I immediately had 20-25 guys that I could hang out with. When I went home for winter break I was happy to be home but it was definitely weird. I feel comfortable with my friends and classes are flowing.”
Connors was able to make the transition smoother than most, but there was one moment the freshman midfielder wishes he could forget.
“I would do certain things like slurping my spaghetti,” Connors said. “People kind of looked at me like, “what was that?”
After the lesson was learned the hard way, Connors was right back on track to living like any other 18-year-old in college, even stepping up on the field.
“Last season he was an attacking midfield role,” Clarke said. “This spring he’s been playing center back because we graduated three of the four we had. In case we don’t land any in recruiting. He’s one of our better players, technically.”
Connors’ sophomore season and beyond will continue to bring new challenges in the classroom as well as on the field, but in the social world, he feels he’s overcame that hurdle for good.
“There’s six of us who are really close and we all hang out,” Connors said. “They’ve taken me in and they don’t really care if I’m Japanese. I don’t even feel like I’m an international student at all I’m just one of the guys.”
Connors has made it very clear from a young age, he wants to be in America, now he is. Just as everything has before, he plans to continue to put himself in the best position for success and let the pieces fall where they may. Even despite the spaghetti incident, he is well on his way to ending up exactly the way coach Clarke sees him.
“We’re all really excited to have him and I hope it’s a springboard from more players to come over from Japan,” Clarke said.
Article by: Walker Van Wey – Lindenwood University and you can find him on Twitter @Walker_VanWey