For a lot of high school athletes in the United States, soccer is just a hobby.
But for Troy High goalkeeper Matt Smolinski, the sport is much more than that.
For Smolinski, it is a way of life, it is a passion, and one day it is one he hopes to call his profession.
Smolinski has good reason to dream big, as he was recently named an ESPN High School All-American, which means he has received national recognition for his skills on the soccer field.
Smolinski is in his junior year at Troy and has received All-State honors in his last two seasons, while also being named to Michigan’s soccer Dream Team this season.
And as the honors seem to keep rolling in, Smolinski said he appreciates the recognition that is coming his way as a result of playing the sport he loves.
“Like my grandfather told me when I was younger, all these awards are honors,” he said. “I worked hard and I won them for myself. It’s an honor to be recognized like that, and it’s an honor to get those things so they can help me towards my future goals.
“I give my parents all the credit in the world. My friends have always been there. Every coach I’ve had has pushed me to my limit as much as they could. Got to give credit to everybody that’s helped me along the way.”
Troy coach Brian Zawislak will have the opportunity to coach him for one more season, and he has a good idea as to what Smolinski provides for the team when he minds the net.
“He’s a really athletic kid who takes command of the backline and catches almost anything that comes his way in the penalty area,” he said. “He’s a really big presence in the penalty box.”
At some point prior to finishing his high school career at Troy, Smolinski may have a welcomed, yet difficult, decision to make. Just as some high school baseball players have to choose between playing at the college level or accepting an offer from a professional organization, Smolinski may be faced with a similar choice.
While he doesn’t know what decision he would make right now, ultimately he does have a good idea what it is he hopes to do at some point in the future.
“My ultimate dream would be the professional level,” he said. “That’s what I would like to do the rest of my life if I could. Wherever it takes me, I just want it to do something beneficial for me in the future. I’m keeping all my options open right now. These are all steps to the big goal.”
But before he has to worry too much about when and where he may be playing on a professional level, there is still some business to attend to.
According to Smolinski, the record for shutouts recorded by a goalkeeper in the state of Michigan is 47. Given that he already has 45 with an entire senior season still in front of him, it is a record that may have his name next to it in the future.
“Just to get my name on that board,” Smolinski said. “I have gone to the record books and looked up those records, and see these people from (the) 1970’s, (the) beginning of when soccer started here. You see those records and to be on top of one of those lists and maybe 50 years from now have someone look back on my name, that would be pretty cool.”
The Colts made it all the way to the state semifinals last season before losing to Grand Haven.
It would be quite the send-off for Smolinski if he could break the record for most shutouts in a season, while also helping his team be one of the last ones standing at the end of his senior campaign.
“Every year, we’ve made a big run,” he said. “Every year I’ve played, there’s been a big player being a leader on our team. At first it was Nate Hicklin. Then my next year, it was Sean Cunningham, and then this year, Jason Leslie. Those guys all stepped up in the role of senior leader, and this year, I stepped up as a junior, but at the same time, I was still behind those seniors who have that emotional tie to the games. Their last season, that’s what they really want.
“As much as I’ve felt how nice it is to win and succeed, I’ve never felt it as a senior, and I know that means that little bit more. I would really like to be in that position. There’s nothing better than winning as a team.”