It was a little past 9 a.m. on a sunny Friday morning during his final semester at St. Edward’s University when Tony Ho ’21 first heard the muffled cacophony. The grunts. The shouts. The whistles and the claps. The hollow phwump! of the soccer ball. The metal clink! of the goal posts. The sounds rang out in the distance from his campus apartment, growing louder as he walked to class.
Born in Vietnam, Ho immigrated to the United States at 4 years old and moved to the Austin suburbs in third grade. He picked up soccer four years later, when his cousin immigrated, too. Ho played in middle school and high school and enrolled at St. Edward’s hoping to walk on with the Hilltoppers.
Then reality settled in. Academics took over.
“I saw my friends on the team juggling practice schedules and coursework and was like, ‘Maybe this isn’t what I want.’”
Still, after so many years tuned into the game, after so many balls kicked and so many shins bruised, the ambient sounds of the sport piqued his curiosity. He walked a little faster now. A little taller. He passed the Mary Moody Northen Theatre and the Sorin Oak, and when he looked off to his right, through a clearing in the trees, he was gobsmacked to find the city’s new Major League Soccer team, Austin FC, scrimmaging on the same sunny pitch where he’d once dreamed of playing. The team’s trendy new logo — two leafy live oaks, green and intertwined — was splashed across the midfield.
He stopped. He stared. And in that moment, he says, spellbound by the athletes’ speed, their stamina, their utter physicality — warm with nostalgia for the whole atmosphere of the sport — his desires crystallized. Just months shy of completing his Business Management degree, Ho now saw the path ahead. One day, he thought, I’m going to work for Austin FC.
“If you had told me when I was 12 that I’d be here, I’d probably pinch myself,” he says. Less than two years later, he’s now a marketing coordinator for Austin FC, the first major league pro sports team in the city. “It’s surreal.”
The passion Ho felt that morning during preseason practice, he says, he now feels daily on the job. It’s the passion that keeps him coming back. That game day atmosphere. The people — the fans and his colleagues. And it’s the job’s overarching mission.
“Yeah, it’s soccer. But if you think about it in a different way, it’s more than soccer,” he says. “It’s kind of like, How do you build community?”
By Carson Vaughan
Photography by Chelsea Purgahn
Explore more of this 5-part series of Hilltoppers who are part of a cultural shift as Austin embraces its first major-league pro team, Austin FC.
From the classroom to the office, Alfredo Naim '07 leverages his economic studies.
Emely Alvarado '21 shares her rise at Austin FC.
How a St. Edward's connection helped José Covarrubias '18 realize his calling.
Stephanie '08 and Edward Dempsey '05 exemplify Hilltopper pride with La Murga de Austin.