COLUMBIA — Brian Eike's family grew by one when freshman Ryo Okubo joined the Columbia College soccer team this season.
Although Cougars sophomore forward Yudai Yamaguchi was the main reason Okubo, a midfielder, came to Columbia. Both are from Japan and they are roommates. But Okubo has developed a close friendship with Eike, a junior midfielder who has adopted Okubo like a younger brother.
Columbia College (6-4, 2-1 in the American Midwest Conference)
at Missouri Valley College (8-2, 3-0 in the Heart of America Conference)
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday
Eike said Okubo looks up to him.
"Which is bad," Eike added, "because I'm like not a person you want to be looking to guidance for, but he does."
In spite of this, so Eike has helped Okubo with everything, including improving Okubo's English and helping him interact with women.
Okubo, who is the shortest of the Cougars' soccer players, is always grinning, and his charming, bubbly and innocent personality has won over Eike and the team. His teammates have already given him the nickname "Ro-Ro."
Okubo said he is grateful for the team's acceptance and assistance with English.
"Everyone helped my English," Okubo said. "I really appreciated it."
Although Okubo is fond of his teammates, it is still Eike he admires most. In fact, Okubo wrote a paper in his English class about Eike.
According to Okubo, the homework assignment was to write about your favorite person, and in the paper, Okubo describes Eike as having, "the best smile on the team" and being Okubo's "idol."
"His teacher wants to meet me now," Eike said.
Despite writing a paper about him, Eike said he feels Okubo still has much to learn about English because Okubo sometimes misspells words in his text messages. When Okubo asked Eike to return a pair of shin guards Eike had borrowed, his text message read "cinergs."
According to Eike, every season, the team shaves all the freshmen's heads. But there was some apprehension about doing it to Okubo because the upperclassmen thought it might violate some Japanese cultural taboo. But Okubo did not seem to mind, and he let his teammates give him a buzz cut.
Okubo said he does not care, but his mother has a different opinion.
"'Why did you do that?!'" he said, imitating her. "She never liked my shaved hair."
Okubo is the first freshmen to score a goal for the Cougars. It came Oct. 1 on the road in a 7-1 rout of Williams Baptist (Ark.) College. Okubo, describes it as a "rocky goal" because he scored using his chest instead of his foot or head.
Eike saw it differently.
"It was hilarious," he said, "somebody crossed it, and it just hit off of him."
Although Eike likes to tease Okubo, Eike said he is glad Okubo is on the team because of both his personality and his play.
"He makes me laugh 20 times a day," Eike said. "He plays really hard, and he gets playing time in every game. He's a little ball of energy out there."