Earlier this week I had the privilege of chatting with Matthew Gay, the former Utah Ute, who aims to take the NFL by storm this upcoming season. Please enjoy this career retrospective, filled with great conversation from the man himself.
There are few things in this world that I love more than special teams athletes excelling. From long snappers to kickers, special teamers matter, perhaps more now than ever before. The perception that these players are merely part-timers is long outdated, and for those who believe it still to be true, you needn’t look further than to former Utah Ute Matt Gay, who, in my opinion, is set to take the NFL by storm this forthcoming season.
Gay’s path to the 2019 NFL Draft was unconventional for sure, but one he simply wouldn’t change.
The Journey Begins
Speaking of paths, let’s start at the beginning of the foothill, back when Matthew had dreams of making it professionally as a soccer player. That dream transpired at a very early stage in his life, as he fell in love with the beautiful game prior to his teenage years.
“From a very young age soccer was my whole life. I loved it and still love it, it was my passion. All I did was play and watch it. My dream as I grew up was to play professionally someday, and especially to play in the Premier League.”
The likelihood of dreams such as these becoming true are slim, of course. That said it never prevented Matthew from following his dreams. At his high school, Orem High School in Utah, he set the school’s all-time scoring record, whilst he garnered first team all-state selections in 2011 and 2012. As a result of his enhancement in ability, he earned a spot on the Utah Valley University roster in 2014, predominantly as a striker. In his freshman season, he scored 7 goals which led the team. He was subsequently named to the Academic All-WAC Team. It was at this point that Matthew really began to think he had a shot at making it.
“When I was at UVU (Utah Valley) that was still the goal. I was doing well and had some training sessions with Real Salt Lake, the local MLS team here. I was close I thought to making it professionally and had received good feedback on my play form professional coaches. I was playing Striker or Center Forward at the time, that was my favored position. I was a big strong forward with some pace but I wouldn’t say I was too quick. I loved to run onto balls and strike balls from distance. As for free kicks, I loved and excelled at free kicks.”
After his freshman campaign, Matthew, a devout Christian, stepped away from the game and embarked on a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
“After stepping away from the game for a year while I served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints I could not get back into it. I gained weight and lost fitness and found it difficult to get back into match fitness and ultimately it showed in a loss of playing time and not as much success. Which is what led me to take a risk and go for football.”
In his return to soccer, as aforementioned, he struggled. After making just 1 start through 15 games, he decided it was time to take a leap of faith.
“I Could Do That”
Being successful is all about having the confidence and belief in your own ability, that being something that Matthew is far from bereft of. Still, confidence doesn’t land you the starting kicker’s job at one of the country’s top universities, and when you couple that with his confusion as to what to do next athletically, then one could say it was more than a headache. With that in mind, how did the opportunity arise?
“I had someone approach me and say they knew someone at Utah if I wanted to give kicking a go. This thought stirred in my mind for a few months and then I decided to move on from soccer. At this time I still had no options for kicking so I started messaging people. I had the connection at Utah from my friend which led me to go to the specialist camp that Utah holds every summer. Also word got out that I was trying to kick, therefore I had somebody else I knew get me a tryout at BYU and at Snow College which is a junior college in Utah. I am a very confident person so I knew I could be successful. I just did not know to what extent. I would always watch football with my friend’s, college and NFL and see the kickers and be like “I could do that”. When I set my mind to do something I want to be the best at it. Whether it was soccer, football, playing pick-up basketball with my friends, or even bowling (a side hobby of mine). So I ended up winning the specialist camp at Utah and was offered a walk-on spot there and decided that was my best option if I wanted to play in the NFL.”
On Top Of The Mountain
Let’s not forget, luck paves a path for opportunity more often than not. Incidentally, it was luck that produced Matthew’s favourite memory from his time at the university, as the team’s starting kicker ahead of the 2017 season missed his first attempt, which allowed Gay to takeover.
“My favourite moment on the field might have been my very first game there. I was not the starter for the first game and after the starter missed his first attempt the coach told me I had the next kick. So I ended up making my first kick, and then my second, and it kept going. I ended up being perfect on kicks that night and it was just crazy. From going into the game not thinking I was even going to play, to playing and going perfect was a great night.”
From there, nothing would get in his way. Literally. His freshman season was one of the most glorified in the school’s history, as he converted 40 of 40 point after attempts, whilst making 30 of 34 field goals. His 88.2% FG conversion rate saw him win the Vlade Award for being the nation’s most accurate kicker. In addition to that, he added the prestigious Lou Groza Award (presented annually to the top college football placekicker in the United States by the Palm Beach County Sports Commission) to his trophy cabinet also. As well as his silverware, Gay was a league leader in more than one statistic. He led the nation in field goals made (30), 50+ yard field goals (tied with 5) and field goals attempted (34). Due to his otherworldly contributions, he was named a Consensus All-American and member of the All-PAC-12 team.
In the following campaign, he finished as a Semi-Finalist for the Lou Groza Award, whilst he added another All-PAC-12 Team nomination. This came as a result of his conference leading 26 field goals made and 1.86 field goals made per game. It was in the 2018 season, that he set the school record for consecutive field goals made at 21. This was an achievement that he was completely unaware of until he was told in an interview.
“It is always something special when you break a record and become apart of history. To be able to say that I have the record for that is amazing when Utah have had such amazing kickers in the past. To even be mentioned with their names is an accomplishment. It was also great to see your hard work pay off in ways like that. I did not start the season the way I would have liked (3/6 on field goals). And to be able to bounce back from that start and go on a streak was a great feeling and testament to being resilient.”
Among his many collegiate career and life achievements, Matthew cited that he remembered his perfect game against Brigham Young University in 2017 as one of his fondest memories.
“Going to BYU’s stadium and converting 4-4 on field goals was unreal too. Off the field is tough because I did not live on campus ever. I commuted and was dating my now wife so I didn’t spend much time on campus apart from football. But I would say just getting my degree. Graduating was such an accomplishment and being able to say you got your degree is something cool.”
A State That Means Everything
Evidently, the State of Utah has played an enormous part in Matthew’s life. He was born there, he excelled there and he dominated there. And that, he’ll never forget.
“My relationship with the state of Utah is a special one. I was born and raised here my whole life. Most of my family are here and my closest friends as well. I have had the same group of friends since I was a very young kid. We have been best friends for over 20 years, so my relationship with them is very close. I love the seasons that it offers and the beauty that it has. From deserts to beautiful mountains. Everything I know and love is from Utah. I had great support here during college when I played soccer here and when I played football. This state has shown me great love and loyalty.”
His legacy is truly entrenched within his state, and on his team. Irrespective of his status as one of the university’s most consistently accurate contributors, Matthew wants for more than anything to be remembered for being an even better human than he was a player.
“I would like to be remembered as a good person. Someone who the fans saw as a good person. My teammates saw me as a good teammate and a good person, as well as my coaches. Football is a game and it ends, but who you are as person and how you treat people is more important than all of that. If some fans came in contact with me or spoke to me. I want them to leave that interaction thinking, wow he was a nice and down to earth guy. And it means so much to represent Utah because it isn’t about you, it is about the players who came before you and their hard work to better the team and the guys who come after you. A team that has had amazing success and is represented well in the community and stands for some amazing things.”
The Grind Doesn’t Stop
For both collegiate and professional athletes, the grind never stops. For those like Matthew, who are eagerly anticipating the 2019 NFL Draft, now is a better time than any other to truly hone in on their craft.
“I have been preparing in multiple ways. Obviously perfecting my craft and kicking a lot trying to improve in every way I can are important; improving my technique and timing and really improving my kickoffs too. That was one thing I really needed to step up when making the transition to the NFL. I have improved that quite a bit getting better tempo and hang time on them. But also training my mind and mindset. Going from college and being in school to treating this as your job. This is how you support your family, this is how you make money and provide. Making sure I look at this like a 9-5 job and doing the little things everyday like recovery and stretching and seeing those things as my job to better myself. I feel like I am positioned well. I went to the NFL Combine and performed well there and had a good week. I also have my Utah pro day this week and am kicking well right now. Things are looking good for me to get a shot. Whether that is getting drafted which I hope happens or being an undrafted free agent and being able to get into a camp somewhere and be able to compete for a job. That is all you can ask for is a chance to compete. And it is looking good right now.”
As already evidenced, Matthew is an outstanding kicker. But what does he feel he can bring to an NFL locker room?
“Like I said I am a confident person, so I think I can bring my talent to an organization and be a successful and dependable kicker that makes his kicks. But I also think I can bring character as well. I feel like I am a charismatic person who likes to laugh and have a good time. I am family oriented and I can bring that feel and mindset to a team and locker room. I am a man of faith so I have my family and morals behind me to drive me to do the right things and bring a high level of respect and good acts. I want to do things for the community and give back to the places I am from and the place where I live.”
Fulfilling A Lifelong Dream
Making it to the NFL would be absolutely unreal to say the least. It would seem that Gay is well on his way to doing exactly that.
“It would mean so much to me. To see the hard work pay off and be able to go after even bigger things. I want to be the best and be successful at every level, so even if I make the NFL I will want more and strive to excel at that level as well. And also it will mean so much that I can provide for my family and give them a good life and give them the things they need and want. That is the most important thing to me.”
As our conversations drew to a close, Matthew detailed the people he’d thank the most upon his recruitment to the NFL.
“I will be thankful for so many people on that day. First and fore most I will be thankful for God. Who was with me every step of the way and for giving me so many opportunities to be successful and his divine plan. Then I will be grateful for my wife Millie who has sacrificed so much for me to be able to chase this dream and has supported me the whole way through. Not just the good times but the bad as well. My parents who gave up so much for me to play soccer all growing up and have supported me my whole life to achieve so many things. And to my family and friends who were at games and constantly supporting me in sport and in life to not only succeed in football but who have all shaped me into the person I am today and made me who I am. My coaches for giving me a chance to play at the collegiate level and my late best friend Parker Overly who always pushed me to play football but sadly passed away during the process.”
Destiny Is Calling
After Matthew’s two incredible years at the University of Utah, he is primed to earn a spot on an NFL roster for sure. The statistics that he has registered in just a couple collegiate campaigns set him above the majority of his counterparts at the NCAA level entering the 2019 NFL Draft. On top of that, he beholds the characteristics that any NFL franchise would dream of, being that he is a kind, personable and honest guy who works his tail off day in and day out.
Whilst, the challenge of becoming a starter in the NFL is enormous, there remains no mission too big or small for Matthew to handle, and it’s for these reasons that I look forward to him dominating special teams next year.
Special Thanks – To Matthew for helping create this article with his exquisite responses.
Credits – sports-reference.com, utahutes.com, gouvu.com.