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Hikaru Naruoka, an 18-year-old high school soccer player, is a youngster flying under the radar who is hoping to get his chance to flourish at Shimizu S-Pulse, which is hovering dangerously near the bottom of the J. League table.

A youth player who has been given playing time at the senior level in 2020, Naruoka made his league debut in the YBC Levain Cup in August and patiently awaits his turn to get his name on the scoresheet.

“The best scenario is to think about what I can do for the team, then contribute to a win,” he said.

Naruoka is a senior at Shimizu Nishi High School in Shizuoka Prefecture, and the breakout player has already secured his place in the squad for next season. He also holds a potential spot on Japan’s national Under-19 team.

Since last month, he’s been used off the bench in seven top-flight matches, and he said he savored every moment on the pitch at the highest level of Japanese club soccer.

“My goal was to be a part of J1 this year but I didn’t expect it to happen so soon,” said Naruoka, who spent six years in Shimizu’s junior youth and youth development programs.

He has yet to record a goal or an assist in J1, and the midfielder understands he has a lot of learning to do before he starts feeling comfortable on the pitch with his more experienced teammates and opponents.

More playing time in the top division means more recognition at school from classmates, who tell him they watched his games, but Naruoka says he would be more motivated if he gets praised for his accomplishments.

“I haven’t received a ‘good job’ yet,” he said.

Shimizu S-Pulse are currently 16th out of 18 clubs on the J1 table, having lost four of their last five matches. The season began in February, but was shut down for four months because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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