Asher Ozuzu was fighting his way through tears in the Class 3A, Section 3 Finals two weeks ago. The Eastview senior striker sprained his ankle after just 17 minutes of play. The ankle started to swell immediately.
“I fell on it and it just jumped off,” he said. “And I was like, ‘I can’t play anymore.’ ”
But then he looked at his teammates and decided not playing was not an option. And, after spraining his ankle, Eastview’s main offensive threat still found a way to score.
“I wasn’t even running, I was limping,” he said. “The ball was played to me and I just jumped up. And I was like, ‘No way did I just score that.’ ”
It was Eastview’s only goal in their 2-1 sectional final loss to Rosemount. But although the Lightning’s season ended earlier than they had hoped, Ozuzu was proud that his team – including himself – left everything on the field.
“I think if he had gone down and couldn’t play it would have been a huge blow to team morale,” Eastview coach Scott Gustafson said. “To see him have the maturity and that willingness to gut him is something we maybe haven’t seen in recent years.”
This maturity, displayed on and off the court, is where Ozuzu felt he grew the most during his three years at Eastview. With his school record of 39 goals and seven assists, the senior forward is the Pioneer Press East Metro Men’s Soccer Player of the Year.
His growth is what took him to these heights. This growth is born of a desire to lead. Gustafson noted that Ozuzu was a transitioning sophomore player, adjusting to a struggling new team. There were high expectations for the striker’s junior season, but the early part of the campaign was derailed by fitness issues, nagging injuries and commitment.
There have been no such problems this fall because Ozuzu has dedicated itself to being an example. The captain thrived in a leadership role and enjoyed being the one his younger teammates could turn to if they needed advice. This responsibility is earned through actions. These consistent actions helped turn Ozuzu into an unstoppable force.
“Because I know for sure the talent has always been in me, but maturity comes from working harder in training and stuff like that,” he said. “It really brought it out in me; the more I work, the more I’m that role model for my team and everything. Having players who look up to you is really good.
The elder is still evaluating his college football options, with designs on one day playing professionally. A physical specimen, he was playing in the perfect system with the perfect supporting cast to flourish this fall.
For example, Ozuzu and midfielder Nick Karam have developed a successful system when looking to attack.
When Karam had the ball, Ozuzu would shout “Nick, Nick” to let the midfielder know he wanted the pass over. When Ozuzu wanted the ball at his feet, he only said “Nick” once. And every time the pass went over, Ozuzu noted: “I don’t think there was a central defender who could follow.”
He is too big, too fast and too strong.
“I joke that his name is Asher Blessing Ozuzu,” Gustafson said. “He’s blessed in so many ways physically, and he’s a blessing to have in your team when you need a goal.”
Gustafson guessed that Ozuzu’s new scoring record wouldn’t be hit for years. Ozuzu had a four-goal playoff game with five three-goal performances.
Ozuzu has surprised itself with its goalscoring output this season, but Gustafson knew something special was on the horizon when the striker netted twice in the season opener against Hastings in August.
“It was a different Asher than what we saw in 2021. It was like, ‘OK, this has the potential to be something special,'” Gustafson said. “He’s someone who, when you don’t know him, you look at him, he passes the eye test. There’s something special about him.”
It just took a few years to reveal itself. Gustafson called Ozuzu a “late bloomer” that should continue to flourish at the next level and beyond.
“I feel like that’s what drives me, constantly wanting more,” Ozuzu said. “I don’t want to be an average player, I want to be at the top.”
xavier andersonsenior striker, Woodbury: With 28 goals, he’s a lethal goalscorer, but Anderson picked up the assist in Woodbury’s quarter-final victory.
Cooper Bellinger DanielsonSenior striker, St. Paul Academy: The senior’s 21 goals – many of them timely – propelled the Spartans into the Class A semi-finals.
Jacob DinzeoJunior midfielder, Hill-Murray: With 25 goals and 11 assists, Dinzeo is the attacking firepower of the undefeated Pioneers.
Liam Moreirasenior forward, Stillwater: Had 24 goals and 19 assists for the Eternal Power Ponies.
Charles WriedtMain Defender, Central: A skilled central defender patrolled the pitch for Central’s frugal defence.