Soccer goalkeepers and airplane pilots are among the loneliest jobs in the world. Neither is able to abandon their post as they stand alone between their team/crew and absolute disaster.
Matt Sutfin isn’t afraid to take on great responsibility. He’s comfortable in his own space, and that’s a good thing because Sutfin is the Millikan boys’ soccer goalkeeper and one of the youngest licensed airplane pilots in California.
“He gravitated to (flying),” said Matt’s father Tom, who is a flight instructor. “It wasn’t pushed on him. He slowly built the interest.”
Tom was a lot more surprised when his youngest son chose goalkeeper on the soccer team over other sports. Sutfin said his athletic life changed when he was the goalkeeper for Newcomb Middle School’s city championship win in a penalty kick shootout.
“That set my path right there,” Sutfin said. “It was this overwhelming feeling of victory that kind of stuck with me and that’s why I’ve always played.”
On Wednesday night, Sutfin was once again playing in goal for Millikan and trying to help the Rams win a third Moore League championship in the last three years. He and the Millikan defense had shut out their opponents 17 times already this season, and they needed to beat Long Beach Poly to clinch the title.
“He’s very controlled and he’s a good leader,” Millikan coach Rod Petkovic said. “He doesn’t make the unnecessary mistakes. That’s what you get with a 4.0 GPA student.”
Sutfin has always done well in school and had a 4.6 GPA last semester because of all of the advance placement classes he was taking. Now his GPA average in high school is above four.
“Sometimes it’s been hard with all the practices and games,” Sutfin said of getting his homework done. “It was a lot of late nights, but I made it happen… It’s just hitting the books. I just read, read and read until I figure out what I’m doing.”
Sutfin added that his favorite subject is science, and especially Chemistry, because of, “The application to life. You can really pull things out of that class without having to do much work and you can see it happen in the real world.”
“He’s always been really verbal and a keen kid,” Tom said. “All of the older kids liked him. He was always engaged people. He’s got no problem talking to people and sometimes making a pointed comment.”
Sutfin took after his older brother, Mitchell, and played basketball at the Lakewood YMCA while attending Newcomb. He also plays lacrosse, but fell in love with soccer when he got a chance to play for his school.
“I had a goal to play every sport at Newcomb,” Sutfin said. “I wanted to win the Jalen Thayer Award that’s given to the student who can maintain a 4.0 GPA while playing soccer, track, basketball and football. I won it. I wanted to leave a legacy.”
Despite being one of the best middle school athletes in the city, Sutfin didn’t expect to make the Millikan soccer team.
“I believed it was such a high quality of soccer that it might be out of my league,” Sutfin said. “I didn’t start freshman year, but I worked twice as hard, and when I was a sophomore I moved up to varsity because of that hard work.”
Sutfin patiently waited his turn to start this season as a senior, and it was worth the wait.
“It’s the calm head you have to keep, but being ready to spring up and make a big save,” Sutfin said of being in goal. “And your team relying on you to clutch up at the end of a game… I love that overwhelming feeling when you make that save, when your team rallies around you and you pick up the team.”
Millikan has suffered a string of unfortunate injuries this season, and that has forced a group of sophomores to step up in league play. Sutfin has taken some of those underclassmen under his wing because he knows what it’s like to get called up.
“I told them you have to calm down and settle into the game,” Sutfin said. “You have to let the ball come to you and you’ll make the plays happen because obviously that’s why you’re on varsity… Sophomore Noah Scott has really stepped up at right back and really helped our defense.”
Sutfin wants to keep playing soccer for as long as he can, but has big plans for himself in college. He wants to attend a prestigious university or join the military to because a fighter pilot.
“It’s freeing,” Sutfin said of his love for flying. “When you’re up there you’re by yourself and there’s no one around you. You’re like a bird.”
Tom had his son in the cockpit and behind the wheel at 8 years old. After logging more than 75 hours in the sky, Sutfin was able to get his pilot’s license at 17.
“It’s a lot of hard work, long hours and studying to get that done,” Tom said of getting a pilot’s license.
Sutfin said his favorite place to fly out of Long Beach Airport is to Catalina Island where he gets buffalo burgers for lunch. However, the most memorable trip he’s taken with his dad was one from Maryland to California.
Tom had always wanted to own a plane, and found a Cessna 172 for sale in Maryland a few years ago. The Sutfins flew commercial to the East Coast, bought the small plane, and flew it home to California together.
“It was very tiring and about 24 hours of flight time,” Sutfin said. “As you’re flying on the East Coast it starts green and gets brown as you fly west.”
Tom had driven across country with his older son, Mitchell, as a bonding experience. But this was a once in a lifetime experience.
“It’s a different look,” Tom said. “It’s an amazing country when you see it from a couple thousand feet off the ground.”
Sutfin may literally get lost in the clouds sometimes, but he said that having to stay on his toes in goal or behind the wheel is a comfortable place for his sharp mind.
“You have to be mentally there,” Sutfin said. “You have to keep going and fine-tuning every little aspect like making the right first step. It’s trying to make everything as perfect as possible, no matter how small it may seem.”