It’s hard to imagine that the nation’s seventh leading scorer and Academic All-American of the Year ever struggled on the field or in the classroom, but that was just the case three years ago with senior Matt Osborne, midfielder and captain of the GW men’s soccer team.
“I think (GW head coach George Lidster) was really kicking himself after the first semester for recruiting me,” Osborne said. “But I got everything worked out, and I think he’s happy now.”
With good reason. “Ozzy,” as he is called by his teammates, became the second leading scorer in GW history this season with 49 career points while leading the Colonials to their first-ever Atlantic 10 title and first NCAA Tournament appearance in 14 years.
Off the field, Osborne has earned a 3.73 GPA in his first three years at GW and is on track to graduate this spring with a degree in exercise science. Last week, his hard work earned him not only a spot on the Verizon Academic All-America Team but the honor of being named Academic All-American of the Year for men’s soccer. The award, voted on by college sports information directors, is limited to student-athletes who are starters or key reserves and maintain at least a 3.2 GPA.
But neither athletic nor academic success came quickly or easily for Osborne. Leaving his hometown of Bingham, Notts, England to come to GW as a freshman, Ozzy had to adjust to both American soccer and schooling. Raised in a climate where “everyone gets into soccer,” Osborne said his father encouraged him to explore his talent in America.
“It took a lot of time to adjust to the style of play (in America),” he said. “It’s much more physical, so I had to get stronger and faster.”
In his first season with the Colonials, that adjustment was not complete. Osborne started only 12 games in 1999, took 28 shots and scored only one goal.
Academically, Osborne started college two years behind American students. In England, students can finish high school at age 16. He said he had trouble in many classes, especially math, but worked through it and is now a successful student.
“If you go to class and do your work, you can get good grades. You just have to be willing to put the effort in,” he said. “Classes aren’t too intense, but they are a big time commitment.”
Osborne, who devotes much of his time to studying in between practices, games and serving as a student athletic trainer for the women’s volleyball team, said he refutes the misconception that athletes have an easier academic road.
“It’s more difficult being an athletic student because you haven’t got the time to do your work,” he said.
After overcoming the challenges of the “student” part of being an international student-athlete, Osborne used the same dedication that led him to succeed in the classroom on the soccer field and is now one of the premier players in GW history.
“It doesn’t take a genius to see how much Ozzy has improved,” classmate Michael Goldman said. “When he first came, he was out of shape and not used to the speed of the college game. He worked extremely hard to develop his skills and his fitness level until his total ability improved.”
In his sophomore year, Osborne started all 18 games, scoring 32 points on 15 goals and two assists. As a junior starting in every game, the forward scored an additional 25 points on 10 goals and five assists.
In his senior year, Osborne has emerged as a team leader, in addition to topping the nation’s statistical categories. He was the team’s leading scorer with 19 goals and 11 assists, but it is his spirit, teammates said, that adds the most to the team.
“We owe a lot of our success to Ozzy’s leadership,” Goldman said. “This year, he reached his peak, and we have a great deal of respect for him.”
Lidster said Osborne will leave “a big hole to fill” as a player and a team captain.
“He’s been tremendous both on and off the field, in the classroom and as a leader,” he said. He is someone who will never give up, and he will leave GW as a winner.”