by Dave Johnson, W&M Athletics
April 29, 2022
On Saturday morning, 118 years to the day, William & Mary football legend and campus pioneer Art Matsu will receive his due.
A historical marker bearing Matsu’s name will be unveiled at 11 a.m. near an arcade in Zable Stadium that bears his name. It is one of five monuments commissioned by the Commonwealth to observe the history of Asian American Pacific Islanders.
Zack Hoisington will proudly represent his family on his great-grandfather’s former playground.
“It’s a huge honor,” said Hoisington, a high school teacher from Maryland who was born the same year Matsu died. “I really love hearing stories about my great-grandfather being a super competitive athlete. It’s a great reminder of where I come from.
“It’s all about my family. I’m just glad the story is being told. We appreciate everything that William and Mary have put into this. I’m glad there are other people who appreciate the legacy that ‘he has left.”
Most of what Hoisington learned about this heritage comes from his grandmother. Nancy Matsu Hulse, Art’s daughter, who is now 93 and lives in Pennsylvania.
“She doesn’t travel much anymore,” Hoisington said, “but she’s thrilled with the dedication.”
In addition to Hoisington, speakers at the event will include President Katherine A. Rowe, Asian Centennial Committee Co-Chairs Francis Tanglao Aguas and Deenesh Sohoni, and Benming Zhang 2016, JD ’20, who did his master’s thesis on Matsu. Also in attendance will be students from Cumberland Middle School, who nominated Matsu for the marker.
Matsu was born on April 30, 1904 in Glasgow, Scotland. His mother was Scottish, his father Japanese. According to biographical accounts, his family moved to Canada before settling in Cleveland. He excelled in athletics from an early age, especially football, baseball, basketball, track and field, and swimming.
“He was the Bo Jackson of his day,” Hoisington said.
Matsu enrolled at William & Mary in 1923 and became a prominent national football player. Sportswriters gushed about his talents and tenacity, but some couldn’t help but call him a “Japanese quarterback”.
Matsu was elected team captain as a senior. In his last game, according to “Goal to Goal: 100 Seasons of Football at William & Mary” by Wilford Kale, Matsu threw a 47-yard field goal in a 9-6 win over Chattanooga.
Matsu was also popular on campus. He was president of the Varsity Club and a member of the Seven Society and the Order of the White Jacket.
Still, there were obstacles.
In 1924, Virginia passed the Racial Integrity Act, which redefined the Commonwealth’s ban on interracial marriage. A white person was classified as someone “who has no trace of blood other than Caucasian”. This meant that Asians and whites could not marry.
Many believe that Matsu’s growing popularity, along with his handsome features, was a compelling reason for this.
After earning degrees in business administration and economics in 1927, Matsu played in the National Football League with the Dayton Triangles. According to profootballreference.com, he played six games in 1928, including four as a starter, but no statistics are available.
Matsu is believed to be the first player of Japanese descent to play in the NFL.
Matsu then became a coach, first at the high school level in North Carolina and Virginia, then as an assistant at Rutgers. In 1960, Matsu moved to Arizona, where he worked in real estate and scouted for the Arizona State football team.
In 1969 he was inducted into the William & Mary Athletics Hall of Fame.
Matsu died on May 28, 1987, at the age of 83. According to his obituary in the Arizona Republic, he is survived by his wife, Eva, daughter, Nancy, son, Arthur, three grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.
This great-grandchild will be especially proud on Saturday morning.