Every school has one guy who always says something funny and makes the entire class erupt in laughter, even after a difficult lesson. At St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, that young man is Matt Bockhorst.
He loves to help his fellow classmates laugh and relieve some of the stress looming in every school hallway. He has a natural ability to always say the perfect things to brighten your mood. When asked about something special he wanted me to include in the article, Matt replied that he wants all the ladies out there to know he can do the splits.
Even though Matt is very entertaining, he knows when to turn it off and focus. Throughout his career, he always focused on football. He set goals from a young age, and did everything needed to accomplish them.
Matt fell in love with football before he ever strapped on pads and stepped on a field. Throughout his youth, he watched his older brother’s practices, which gave him an early preview of what it is like to be on a football team. By the time first grade came around, and he finally started playing, he was already in love and ready to go.
He is fortunate to play for one of the top powerhouse football teams in the country. Whether you live in Ohio, Washington, or Louisiana, if you hear a player comes from St. Xavier, you know he has talent.
Everyone at St. Xavier is focused and determined to help their team succeed. Even if it means spending extra time in the weight room, brushing up on drills after practice ends, or staying up late at night to study film, they will do whatever it takes.
The dedication to success is something Matt appreciates about his team. “We may not have the most 4 or 5 star recruits, but we do have a lot of hard workers who will go toe to toe with anybody in the country,” he says.
When it comes to his own personal style, the words “old school” and “finisher” make their way into the description. He may not be the tallest or heaviest guy on the line, but he will not stop until the final whistle. On every single play, he gives his hardest effort. He is extremely aggressive and tenacious, ready to do whatever it takes to win. These traits can intimidate a defensive lineman and cause him to “tap out” mentally.
“Football is a beautiful blend between mental and physical toughness, but most of the time the opponent is beaten in the mental game,” says Matt.
Even though he shows strong, ample efficiency on the field and is recognized as one of the top players in the country, he found himself extremely frustrated during the recruitment process.
Interior lineman are often looked over during recruitment, even though you can argue that the success of an offense starts with them. They are the key to a strong offense, but do not receive the attention and credit other positions receive.
On a few occasions, he had to visit a school to obtain coaches’ attention. After traditional powerhouse universities in his region failed to extend offers, Matt decided it was time to expand his search for the perfect team.
When he broadened his search, it was not long before he found the school he knew, without a doubt, is where he wants to spend the next few years. On January 30, 2016, Matt announced his commitment to Clemson University.
There are many reasons why Matt chose Clemson, but one of the decisive factors was the family atmosphere. Every school loves to insist their team is a family - a strong brotherhood where bonds for life will be made. But for some schools, that simply is not the case. Or, they turn out not as close knit as advertised. Clemson, however, takes this promise seriously.
Coaches’ families are constantly around and often invite players over to dinner at their houses. Every player that steps on campus is welcomed into the Clemson family.
“At Clemson, family is not just a slogan or catchphrase, it’s the real deal,” says Matt.
Last summer, Matt accepted an invitation to compete in the Opening in Oregon. The Opening is a dream come true for players. Not only do they learn from top coaches and receive guidance from mentors who play in college, but they also compete against other top players in the nation. It is the perfect combination of competition, learning, and fun.
The fun ended almost as soon as it started for Matt. During one of the drills, everything was going great, until he planted wrong and felt his knee buckle. Trainers quickly carted him off, and the news that followed was devastating. The results came back and revealed a torn ACL.
Torn ACL’s are not rare in football, but it does not make them any less devastating. Because of the timing, Matt was sidelined for his entire senior season and could not play when his team made it to the state championship.
The physical pain is so excruciating that unless you have experienced it firsthand, it cannot be comprehended. Even so, the hardest part of the injury is the mental turmoil.
Throughout his career, Matt was always the top college recruit with many accolades, leader of the team, and made a huge impact on the field every week. The injury stripped that from him.
When his senior season rolled around, he longed to be the leader he once was. Ultimately, he was not named a captain, did not receive any accolades, and did not make a difference on the field.
“There have been many days where I question why such a thing would happen to me,” says Matt.
The scenario would be a perfect reason for him to give up hope and start a pity party in his honor. But, he tries to take the high road and remain positive. On some days it is harder than others, but with every day that passes he is closer to getting back on the field, and that refuels his positive mindset.
Matt has learned the best thing to do is take his recovery one day at a time. He refrains from thinking about a week or a month down the road, and focuses all of his attention on the 24 hours each day brings. Every morning, he figures out what he can do in those hours to further himself to receive clearance to return.
Once his recovery process is over, and Matt is officially a Clemson student-athlete, he wants to work on improving his overall game as a center. His height prohibits him from playing tackle, so his focus has shifted.
“I want to give myself the best opportunity to play in both college and God willing the NFL,” he says.
Personal goals keep him motivated on the field and in the classroom. During his time at Clemson, Matt wants to be an All ACC Selection at least twice and make the All Academic ACC for as many years as he is in school.
At Clemson, he will find himself surrounded by some of the top athletes in the country. A piece of advice was once given to him that will help during this time and continue to motivate him.
The best advice Matt has received is to never count himself out. High school and college football have a lot of talented players, all working towards the same goal. Having confidence in your own abilities and work ethic is key to outperforming the competition. Keeping this advice with him will help when another extremely talented player comes in with one goal: his spot on the roster.
In the past year, Matt experienced agonizing adversity that helped strengthen his mental might. He was sidelined during the most exciting season of his career thus far and had to watch his team win the state championship from the sidelines. Being unable to play reminded Matt of his deep love for the game, and pushes him to work harder every day. When he returns, he will not only be physically stronger, but also, mentally stronger.
This is crucial to his success when he plays in Death Valley, because as Matt says, often times a game is won mentally.
Clemson University is getting a talented, determined player with one of the most secure mental games in the country. To any defensive lineman with Clemson on their schedule over the next few years: good luck.
Matt’s Advice: Always have an attitude that you haven’t made it yet. Even as a High School All American, I know that when I get to college I am at the bottom of the totem pole. You always have to work hard to get where you want to be and never forget to thank the people who have gotten you where you are. Parents, guardians, coaches, teachers, equipment managers, training staff, etc.