He is a student of the game; very cerebral and understands the tactics. This year he has been more assertive in that leadership role. When he talks, his teammates listen. And, this year, he wasn’t afraid to hold teammates accountable. He really stepped out of his shell. —Russ Boyer, Brighton boys soccer coach
COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS — Matt Coffey's soccer career began the same as nearly every other young kid — playing in noncompetitive recreational leagues.
The sport instantly took hold and, beginning at an early age, has long been at the center of his life.
Coffey soon entered the world of competitive club soccer and later became a significant contributor on the storied Brighton High boys soccer team.
While the powerful forward has been a successful commander on the pitch, what he has done for the Brighton team and community outside of the game is equally impressive.
“He is a giver,” Brighton coach Russ Boyer said. “He always thinks of others before himself.”
It is his spirit of giving, both on the field and off, that has earned Coffey the prestigious title of Deseret News Mr. Soccer for the 2013 prep boys soccer season.
“This feels pretty good,” Coffey said of earning the award. “I thought I had a pretty good year but this it's unexpected.”
When he first stepped onto the Brighton pitch, Coffey instantly grabbed the attention of Boyer and the other Brighton coaches.
“He is obviously a very gifted player,” Boyer said. “He does things on the ball that are just mesmerizing.”
What most impressed the coaches, however, was his ability to grow as a player and a leader during the course of his time on the team.
“As a ninth-grader, we were impressed by a lot of things he did, but he was very right-foot dominant,” Boyer said. “As a senior, people would be hard-pressed to determine which is his dominant foot.”
His greatest improvement this year, however, was in becoming a more vocal captain.
“He is a student of the game; very cerebral and understands the tactics. This year he has been more assertive in that leadership role,” Boyer continued. “When he talks, his teammates listen. And, this year, he wasn’t afraid to hold teammates accountable. He really stepped out of his shell.”
During his time on the field at Brighton, Coffey held a starting spot for three seasons, scored 28 goals, and was part of three region championship teams. The 2013 squad finished with an overall record of 17-2-0 and a Region 3 record of 9-1-0. The Bengals won 12 consecutive games before their first loss, a 1-0 double-overtime decision against rival Alta, and won five more before a shootout loss in the 5A semifinals to eventual champion Lehi.
Coffey scored 12 times during his senior season, but says he focused as much on dishing to his teammates as he did on scoring.
“I like to pass the ball more and get more assists,” he said. “This year I was trying to facilitate more.”
Coffey added that he felt his greatest improvement this season was “probably moving the ball more and knowing when to dribble and when to play off my teammates.”
Coffey’s coach echoed that sentiment, saying, “He is just as happy getting the goal as assisting the goal.”
Outside of the game, Coffey has been heavily involved in various service projects, an interest that began with the soccer team.
“(The team) does a service project every year,” he said. “It teaches you that not everything is about soccer or sports. It's about learning lessons of life and serving others.”
This past spring, the team conducted a tour of Rio Tinto Stadium — including a field day and lunch — for those served by the Utah Association for Intellectual Disabilities.
“Our players, especially Matt and the captains, wanted to make it important,” said Boyer. The coach also teaches a class, service learning and leadership, in which he educates students on creating similar service projects.
“Matt was in that class this year, and he really took ownership of making it a good experience for those we served,” Boyer continued, noting that Coffey directed an event in which class members taught elementary students about sportsmanship.
On top of everything else, Coffey also earned his Eagle Scout during his senior year by collecting used soccer gear and donating it to local refugees.
With high school soccer and graduation now behind him, Coffey will turn his attention toward his next chapter: playing collegiately for the University of Portland and working toward a degree in business.
Alongside him at Portland will be friend and Inter FC club teammate Aaron Caprio, a defender for the state champion Lehi Pioneers.
“I decided to go there my sophomore year. I love it up in the Pacific Northwest. I love the weather. I love the school,” he said. “It's been comforting knowing I know where I'm going. I just have to keep working to get better.”
Boyer noted that it is not just Coffey awaiting a great opportunity — but the University of Portland as well.
“I think he will be a big asset to that team and that campus,” said Boyer. “Every campus needs people like him who put themselves in a position to be successful.”
It seems that working to improve has monopolized Coffey’s time for as long as he can remember, as the combined soccer seasons have turned into a year-round event. For Mr. Soccer, however, dedicating that much time has not been a problem.
“It’s a pretty big sacrifice, but it’s worth it,” he said. “Soccer is everything.”
Sarah Thomas is a graduate of the University of Utah and has been covering sports for the Deseret News since 2008. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org