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January 20, 2012

Matt Hadley: As Good As It Gets

He plays at the 1-A level in the state of Washington, but BYU football commit Matt Hadley from Connell High School -- a school with an enrollment of 600 students in the Tri-Cities area -- just might be the best player in the state.

Though expected to play strong safety in college, it is on the offensive side of the ball that the younger brother of Cougar linebacker Spencer Hadley has rewritten the Washington prep record books.

This past season, Matt set the state record for career touchdowns for all classifications with an amazing 124 scores. As a junior he set the single-season record with 50 touchdowns. That season he also rushed for an eye-popping 2,516 yards. As a senior this year he rushed for nearly 2,400 yards and got into the end zone 39 times.

Hadley finished high school with 6,881 career rushing yards. Only current Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart has rushed for more yards in Washington high school football history.

He is a three-time 1-A State Player of the Year, and in 2011 he was tabbed as a first-team All-State player for all classifications by both the Seattle Times and the Tacoma Tribune. He was also named the Tri-Cities Area MVP by the Tri-City Herald.

His production on the offensive side of the ball is even more amazing when you consider that he played on both sides of the ball, lining up as a safety on defense where he recorded five interceptions in 2011. He was also utilized as a kick and punt returner, although he didn't have a lot of returns because teams would simply kick away from him.

"He's a warrior. I can't even explain it to you," says Connell head coach Wayne Riner. "It's pretty amazing. How many players can say that they have been the 1-A Player of the Year three years in a row? It just doesn't happen."

The 5-11, 208-pound athlete capped his career last month by leading Connell (13-1) to its second state championship in the last three years. He rushed for 168 yards and three touchdowns as the Eagles dismantled 1-A power Cascade Christian 28-7 in the title game, avenging a loss to Cascade in last year's championship match.

"It was a special feeling to finish of my career here at Connell with a state championship," Hadley says. "And winning it with the guys that I've grown up with my whole life was a real neat thing. I couldn't ask for a better way to end it."

Riding the talents of the Hadley brothers, Connell has actually appeared in the state championship game in five of the last six years. That's an impressive feat considering that Washington has 54 schools that participate in the 1-A classification.

"I don't know what I'm going to do without him next year, that's for sure," says Riner. "I don't know what I'm going to do without a Hadley in my program. Matt is a better person than he is a football player, and he's probably the best football player in the state of Washington, so that tells you what kind of person he is."

The younger Hadley will bring his talents to BYU this summer, following in the footsteps of his brother and his cousins Austen and Colby Jorgensen, as well as his distant cousin Preston Hadley. Four years separate Matt and Spencer, so the two have never played on the same team before.

"It's going to be a blast to play with Spencer and my cousins. Spencer is moving out to SAM backer and I'm going to come in at strong safety" Matt explains.

Hadley was the first student-athlete to commit to BYU in the 2012 recruiting class, giving a verbal to Bronco Mendenhall between his sophomore and junior seasons in May of 2010. That was long before Matt would go on to etch his name in the records books in the Apple State.

It is important to note that Hadley's gaudy numbers weren't rolled up in an effort to pad his stats. In fact, according to his coach, just the opposite is true.

"We're not a big stats team," Riner says. "We never even tried to push his stats. Jonathan Stewart played in a lot more quarters than Matt did. Matt, a lot of the time the last three years, has been done by halftime. That just shows you how good he was."

Riner says that of the Eagles' 14 games this past season, Hadley rolled up his incredible numbers by playing in just approximately 60 to 65 percent of the total quarters that his team participated in.

Although he is slated to play in Mendenhall's defense when he arrives in Provo, his prolific production at running back in high school makes one wonder if he could make an impact in the offensive backfield in college.

"I'm not so sure that he can't play running back," says Riner. "BYU might be missing the boat there. Some people are blessed with the natural ability to see holes and to cut. Matt is probably a 4.5 or 4.6 guy, but it doesn't matter on the football field because he's got that vision, he's blessed with talent."

"Do I feel like I could play on the offensive side of the ball? I do," Matt admits. "But the (BYU) coaches know what they are talking about. Coach (Nick) Howell has really reached out to me and I hope that as a safety I can go down there and help the team. I love offense and I love defense, so I'm really excited to play strong safety at BYU."

On the gridiron is not the only place where Hadley excels. The Cougars will add an outstanding all-around student-athlete to their program when he signs with BYU on February 1st. He maintains a 3.86 GPA and is currently the starting point guard on the Connell basketball team. This spring he will continue his standout career as a track and field athlete where has been pursued by programs such as LSU, TCU and Washington for his ability to throw the javelin.

So could he decide to try his hand at being a two-sport athlete when he arrives in Provo?

"I've thought about it, I definitely have. But then I would be missing out on spring ball which would probably not be very beneficial to my football," Matt says.

Hadley has definite mission plans and expects to play one year before heading off on his mission. It's the same path that his brother followed four years ago. Spencer came in as a true freshman in 2008 and saw significant playing time, forcing a fumble against UCLA and recovering fumbles against San Diego State and Air Force.

Riner says Matt has the ability to follow suit.

"He won't miss a beat in college; he's that kind of athlete. Just like Spencer, who was a kid that played defensive back for me and never even worked with the linebackers. Then he goes down to a D-1 program and plays against UCLA and all the boys, and plays middle linebacker and didn't miss a beat. Matt will do the same thing.

"People ask me who is better, Spencer or Matt. I say they're both about as good as it gets."



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