Masaki Matsumoto: ‘It’s important our kids have coaches involved in their lives’

By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Coaches Editor

Masaki Matsumoto earned national acclaim as a coach for an inner-city team in Los Angeles in 2014 when the squad — Hollywood Bernstein — was featured on ESPN’s E:60 documentary series. Perhaps the most memorable moment in the series came when Matsumoto delivered letters to the players from their parents, providing an emotional moment for the viewing audience.

Matsumoto is now the head coach at Lincoln High, a perennial state championship contender in Washington. Coach Matsumoto and the Lincoln football team were recently selected as the 12th Man Flag Raisers for the Seattle Seahawks for their commitment to their community during the pandemic.

Although Lincoln’s football season this fall was postponed to the spring, the Lincoln coaches and players chose to spend their time volunteering twice a week at the Tacoma Rescue Mission.

Matsumoto recently joined FNF Coaches for a Q&A.

How are you holding up in Washington?

“It’s not great in terms of school and football. The date to return keeps getting pushed back. I’m adapting and adjusting to virtual teaching. It’s been a challenge. Our kids at Lincoln have stepped up. I taught three periods yesterday, and they all had their screens on during a workout. I’m super proud of their resilience. Football or not, it’s a tough time, and most of the kids have done a good job of adapting and adjusting to online learning.”

What does the schedule look like for a return to play?

“We’re basically waiting until we get to Phase III, which is what the district says. The numbers keep going up, so it’s not looking too promising.”

Is the plan still in place for a football season starting in February?

“The official start date is Feb. 17. It’s going to be a 7-week regular season with a 3-week playoff and a May 9 end date.”

Can you do anything with the players this fall?

“The plan set by the WIAA was going to give us from Sept. 28 to Nov. 30 to have our ‘spring’ football season because we weren’t able to have it last spring. That could help us get ready for February. Unfortunately, it’s passed and we haven’t been able to hit the field because we’re not in Phase III. We started meeting back on Zoom on Sept. 28. We’re having team meetings, position meetings and installs. We’ll keep that going for however long we can go.”

Is it difficult to keep the kids motivated when there’s so much uncertainty about the season?

“The original plan was to meet once we could be on the field again in mid- to late-October. We were figuring we’d be out of Phase III by then, but it doesn’t look like that will happen. So, we continue to meet online. Whether football is happening or not, it’s important our kids have that structure. Be ready once a week with a notebook, and the coaches get to be involved in their lives. That’s what I told the coaches. Spring ball may not happen, but the kids need this.”

What else have you been doing besides the Zoom meetings?

“Since school’s been out, we’ve done a good job of keeping them engaged. We did various challenges in the spring. During the summer, we did a lot of community service.”

Are you losing any players due to the long layoff between seasons?

“Fortunately, we have a few kids with D1 offers, and they’re staying put. Some decided to go play on a travel team, but it’s not like they’re going to different schools. It won’t affect their eligibility. We’re blessed to have not lost any kids.”

Will you lose any players to early enrollment at their respective colleges?

“We have one 2021 commit — Julien Simon. He’s going to USC. That’s probably the biggest bummer. When Washington announced the season would be pushed to February, he informed me that he would not be able to play with us a couple of days later. He’ll finish high school in December and enroll in the spring.”

Are you able to track how much your kids are working out?

“We’re not able to track it as much as we’d like. Since mid-March, we have not stopped sending them workouts. Coach (Sergio Sibrian) does a good job of being creative with our strength training. He’s been sending stuff home Monday to Thursday since March. We’ll give them two or three weeks off here and there. We try to keep them busy with home workouts. Now, we’re back in school so we try to advocate for as many kids as possible to do weight training class in school on Zoom.”

Do most kids have weights at home?

“I think Coach Sergio has done a good job for kids who don’t have weights at home. He’s utilizing backpacks and milk cartons. They do body weight stuff. For those who do have access to a weight room, we post a lifting program in Google Drive. Some gyms are open, so we provide both to them.”

What’s driving the conversation in your locker room? Email Managing Editor Dan Guttenplan or Tweet us @fnfcoaches. Don’t forget to use that hashtag #FNFCoachesTalk