Sometimes Heart Is All You Need

I feel like I can relate to Sean Matti.

Growing up I idolized my beloved Kokomo Wildkats. When I was in grade school the players on the high school team were like gods to me, and it helped that I lived in a basketball-mad state where high school hoops is practically a religion. When Kokomo was state runner-up in 1989 the third grade T-Mill was jealous of my sister because she was a senior and got to go to school with those players. I attended Basil Mawbey's summer basketball camp every year and shot countless hoops in my driveway waiting to be a Wildkat some day.  

While my heart and desire was larger than most, someone forgot to tell my body that I was supposed to be a high school basketball superstar. Those countless hours shooting did not pay off in a reliable jump shot. Cruelly, I was barely 5'7" and 130 pounds as a sophomore in high school, not the material for a team that was ranked nationally that year. I have the tenacity and hustle to rebound and be a hell of a power forward, only I am about a foot shorter than I need to be for those abilities. So, in the fall of 1995, with my sophomore year of high school in front of me, I chose to be a student manager for my Kats. It was a position I would hold for three years. I took stats, picked up uniforms, watched game film, packed uniforms, helped in practices and the like. It was one of the greatest times in my life, as I got a conference championship, an appearance in the last real state finals in Indiana, and I got to be a part of my beloved Kats for three years.

In that time I would have given anything for a handful of seconds on the floor at the end of a blowout. I never got to play even once, but I still kept practicing and tried to earn those scant few seconds of playing time. It was a conjunction of my physical tools, bad timing (as it was one of the most successful eras in school history), and such that prevented me from ever playing.

The purpose of this meandering story is that I relate to Sean Matti in terms of not seeing all that hard work pay off. Our football program lost a young man this weekend that few even knew of before today. As Boiled Sports said, he showcased himself very well in the spring game with several other backs out and maybe, just maybe, he was going to break through and get that elusive playing time this year.

I was once told, in a church pickup league mind you, that, "no one plays harder than Travis," when it comes ot the game of basketball. It was obviously a way to say something positive about my game since I rarely produced statistical results. I feel Matti was the same way. Here is a kid that was paying his own way from Minnesota. That's not cheap. He walked on as a freshman, redshirted for a year, and has busted his ass in practice for four years without a whiff of playing time. That's the heart of a true Boilermaker.

I have seen a lot of talented players come to Purdue that didn't pan out. They were highly touted four stars that either barely made it to the field and disappointed (Al-Terek McBurse) or had a sense of entitlement that outweighed their actual desire (Garrett Bushong). Matti is the type of player that can be an inspiration from the lowest 5th string walk-on punter to the highest recruited player in the nation. He came to practice every day not because he was on scholarship and had to, but he wanted to. The kid put in work, and he was beloved by his teammates even though he never played:

Ryan Russell

RKRelentless Ryan Keith Russell

Life is unpredictable, cherish every moment. My prayers go out to your family and loved ones. #22

Keith Smith:

KeithSmith8 Keith Smith

EIGHT-EIGHT TWO-TWO (silence) awww Matti! The great memories left behind!

Robert Marve

RMarve9 Robert Eugene Marve

O nine TWO TWO!!! Rip matti. We all will be missing u brother!!!

Ryan Kerrigan

RyanKerrigan94 Ryan Kerrigan

RIP my teammate and friend Sean Matti..you'll be forever loved and remembered #twotwo

Mike Neal

mneal96 Michael Neal

#RIP Sean Matti. Purdue Football Player. Life is short. Count your blessing. Pray continuously. When prayer goes up blessings come down.

Kevin Ballinger

ballinger Kevin Ballinger

Damn, sad sad day. We'll miss you buddy RIP Sean Matti #22

Ricardo Allen

Ricardo21Allen Ricardo Allen

RIP Sean Matti! We will miss you bro!

Take a look at those few tweets from his teammates. From a unanimous All-American down to the backup (now starting) walk-on long snapper Matti was respected by his teammates. There is no doubt in my mind he was going to be an essential leader this year as a fifth year senior even though few would know his name and he would only get polite applause on November 19th against Iowa on Senior Day. It is my hope that we still honor him on senior Day and there will be more than a few #22 jerseys in the stands.

Here is what I had to say last year on his countdown day:

Matti is entering his fourth year in the program but he has yet to see the field in a game. In high school he was a Minnesota all-state selection after notching 150 tackles and 12 sacks. That was good enough be named his conference's defensive MVP, but it wasn't enough for a scholarship offer to a big-time school.

Sean is apparently part of a bitter feud on facebook. Someone has started a group called Sean Matti would destroy Kevin Coyne. My research on Kevin Coyne turned up a 66 year old musician from Germany. I have no idea why someone wants to see one of our walk-on running backs beat the crap out of a German musician, but apparently Sean, "wipes Kevin Coyne off the face of the earth with nothing but a Q-Tip and a ball of yarn." Nothing gets the juices flowing like a good ol' fight to the death. For some good humor I would suggest reading some of the wall posts. I think we can quickly turn Matti into a cult hero with a little effort from you readers.

These are the scant few glimpses into Sean's life I have seen. I can gather that he was probably your typical 22-year old. He was a hard worker. He was enjoying the college life. He liked to have a good time with friends. He obviously had a great sense of humor based on that facebook page. While we still don't know the exact circumstances of this tragedy, we do know that up until he was last seen he was enjoying a great day on the lake with some close friends. he was even loved by the parents of other players. Cody Webster's mom, a friend of the site and provider of Yuengling, called me twice this weekend to talk about Sean and the effect his loss will have on the team.

Ultimately, Sean's heart will be what we remember most about him. His heart, tenacity, and courage obviously had an impact on his teammates, and this year will now likely become "Sean's Year" as we look to improve as a program. I never had a chance to meet Sean, but I certainly respected him for the work he has done. From all accounts, he was a great person. Jordan, a regular contributor here, had several classes with him and had nothing but positive things to say about him. We may have lost a great young man today, but his heart will endure and have a bigger impact than we can ever imagine.

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