Senior captain Griffin Otto and his leadership skills are important to the success of the Grand Rapids High School boys soccer team this season.

GRAND RAPIDS — You can never underestimate the importance of leadership, and that’s exactly what senior Griffin Otto provides for the Grand Rapids High School boys soccer team.

Nick Koerbitz, head coach of the Thunderhawks, said Otto provides leadership for the young Grand Rapids squad.

“He’s our senior captain and he is our main leader,” said Koerbitz. “Everyone looks to Griffin to do the right thing in the toughest moment. So he’s the guy who we all turn to.”

Koerbitz said Otto’s leadership is especially important this season as the team doesn’t have many upperclassmen.

“We don’t have many juniors or seniors,” the coach explained. “When we have small numbers of the older kids, their attitudes and how they carry themselves become that much more important. Griffin – along with the others – do a really good job of that.”

Otto, the son of Christopher and Michele Otto, started playing soccer at age five in New Ulm before moving to Grand Rapids. He said being part of the soccer program allowed him to make new friends. He said he played different positions in his early years as a soccer player, starting as an attacker and then transitioning to outside back for the next three years. Now, in his senior year, he is playing the all-important position of center back.

“You need to have good speed at the position, and you also are one of the people who can see the entire field so you need to be a good communicator for your team, telling them where to pass and stuff,” Otto said.

Koertbitz said one major strength for Otto as a player is winning balls in the air which is important as he plays defense on the back line.

“He gets balls out of the danger zone in front of our own net,” Koerbitz said. “He also reads the game very well. He has been playing since he was a freshman on the varsity team which not very many people do.

“He’s calm, he’s collective and he reads the game really well, but he is physical when he needs to be.”

Otto agrees that he is able to win balls in the air because of his height, and he added that he is also aggressive on the ground.

“I have pretty good vision and my communication I think is probably my best trait,” Otto said. “You also need some quick thinking because if you think too slow the other team could get the ball and have a good chance of scoring. So I need to think fast and get the ball to one of my teammates’ feet up top.”

Otto said the team lost a bunch of seniors to graduation so he feels the team didn’t have a whole bunch of confidence entering the season. However, he said that now that the Thunderhawks have played some of the top teams and done well, the confidence has increased tremendously.

“Now that we have put up a good fight against the top teams I figure we have a chance (to go to state) because our section is pretty much wide open and anybody can really take it,” Otto said. “I think this team is starting to realize that now. We have made great improvements from day one and I think if we keep making those improvements and fight hard in games I think we have a good shot of making the state tournament.”

Koerbitz said Otto has been a pleasure to coach throughout the years. Otto received the Team Character Award as a sophomore which is given to the player who is trying to do the right things, and the coach said it is well-deserved.

“We have looked up to Griffin in the leadership role this year as a senior but even when he was one of the younger guys he was still recognized by his teammates – younger and older – as a really special kid who does all the right things.

“He also is a terrific student in the classroom and has high academic goals for the future as he should. He is just an all-around great kid.”

Otto carries a 3.9 grade point average in the classroom and he said academics should be considered extremely important to student-athletes.

“Academics is where you build a future for yourself,” Otto said. “I think succeeding in the classroom is really important.”

Otto said he likes what he has seen from the University of North Dakota which also has club soccer and volleyball teams which he hopes to participate on. He said he plans to major in the medical field with the ultimate goal of becoming a physician.


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