Matt Hadley’s phenomenal career started with his work ethic and a willingness to learn.
Written by Scott Forsyth
I first met Matt Hadley at the tail end of his freshman year. Having no connections with the football team at that time, I was asked by an assistant coach to come down to the high school and help out with the after-school lifting program. I’ve always wanted to give back in this regard, as I was taught in my youth by a phenomenal lifting coach and an incredible person named Dean Moore, of Richland, WA (a local legend). He was my track and field coach in high school and the man who taught me Olympic lifting. He threw for WSU, and both his sons threw in college (WSU and University of Arizona). If not for him I would never have learned the skills that I teach at Connell High School and to him I owe great gratitude.
So when I first met Matt it was at the high school weight room. I took the offer to help out at the high school and was introduced to him that day. He was 15 years old and relatively scrawny. I had heard so much about his older brother Spencer, who received a scholarship to play football at BYU, that I was anticipating a mighty specimen, but mighty he was not—at least at first appearance.
I had him set up a bar for cleans and I observed his form. When I coach lifting I will typically have the athlete do the lift with little instruction so I can see his strengths and weaknesses then correct them from there. After he performed the first set I told him his form was not good, not good at all; in fact, it was terrible. I proceeded to show him the basic principles of a proper clean and had him do it again, and he did much better. He was a freakishly quick learner and, for someone so young, was highly adept at making his body do complex movements based on verbal instruction alone. I knew right then that I was working with someone very special.
Years later Matt told me that he hated me after our first meeting. I can understand why. I don’t sugarcoat anything when it comes to lifting. If your form is bad I will let you know. That’s how I was taught. My coach demanded good form and I demanded it too. Funny thing is I remember going home that night and talking to my wife about this new student, how I thought he was the real deal, how quickly he learned. He reminded me a lot of myself and I was excited to give him the knowledge that I’d been given.
So what did he accomplish in three years? His cleans went from 155 (four sets of 4-6 reps) to 285 (four sets of 4-6 reps) and a max of over 315; his bench from 165 (four sets of 4-6 reps) to 265 (four sets of 4-6 reps) and a max over 300. He became bigger, faster and stronger. But it wasn’t easy. We are talking about a kid who in the summertime would come to the gym and perform a rigorous workout, such as cleans, clean pulls, snatch, shoulder press, shrugs and abdominals—all to failure. After the lifting was done he could often be seen carrying 135 pounds for 100 yards, followed by a dead sprint of 100 yards, done ten times, for a total of 2,000 yards (signifying the rushing yards he would work to achieve during the football season). After his workout he would go home, change his clothes, and put in an eight to ten-hour day on his family’s dairy farm (wrestling calfs, dehorning, putting up fence, etc.) It was not easy.
Now Matt’s success was not due to his genetics alone. Although he had elite talent, it was not what drove him to be one of, if not the greatest, running backs in the history of the state of Washington. It was his work ethic that drove him to success. Never have I seen a kid who can flat out do work like Matt can. As a coach it is inspiring: Put on more weight, run faster, jump higher, be quicker. He would give me everything he had. He wanted to be the best that he could be. It was his dream to play at BYU alongside his older brother, and there was nothing that would stop him from achieving that.
I still remember the first game I coached Matt. It was the first game I had ever coached. We were getting ready to play Othello and it was obvious that Matt was nervous. A lot was on his shoulders. Being the younger brother of a star athlete put a target on this young man’s chest and he was feeling it. As he was fielding punts in pre-game, I remember telling him to be confident, in fact the words I used were “quiet confidence.” I explained to him that he was ready for this, that he needed to be confident, to internalize everything and put his best effort on the field. That he did. He had an interception and several touchdowns that game, very admirable for a sophomore.
That quiet confidence would grow game by game until at year’s end he had put up 32 total touchdowns, earned, with his team, a state championship, and garnered himself 1A player of the year honors.
Now we all know the rest of the story: 124 career touchdowns, 746 career points, 50 touchdowns in a season (all state records), and a phenomenal career. I know if that were me I would let everyone know about it. I would have my own t-shirt, hat, etc., showing off my accomplishments. But that ain’t Matt. He is the first to tell you that he couldn’t have done it without his teammates. He gives credit to everyone but himself. And I guess that is what this kid is all about. He is a genuinely good human being. He is, in my opinion, the total package. BYU is fortunate to have him.