Land of 10 has embarked on a series of Next Generation stories, a project that aims to bring readers insight into the Class of 2017 signees. These stories will run during the offseason. Today’s story is on Matt Sichterman, a 3-star offensive lineman.
KINGS MILLS, Ohio — Andy Olds always knew Matt Sichterman was a little different.
Matt has always been bigger than most. Stronger than most. He’s a four-time letterwinner in basketball, and in the 32 years Olds has been the football coach at Kings High School, Matt is his first Power 5 conference football player.
But it wasn’t how Matt blocked defensive ends on the turf or moved on the block on the court that raised Olds’ eyebrows and his expectations. It was a declaration Matt made his sophomore year of high school.
“He came into my office and goes, ‘Coach, I have it all figured out,’ ” Olds remembers.
Lay it on me, the coach said.
“I want to go to the University of Cincinnati,” Sichterman said confidently.
“Well, why?” said the coach.
“Well,” Sichterman began, “their cooperative education program, it’s unbelievable. I’m going to have $40,000 in my savings account by the time I’m a senior in college.”
The head coach stared at his lineman, a little stunned.
“This is a sophomore telling me this,” Olds says now, laughing. “While most sophomores are thinking, ‘What’s for dinner?’ ”
But the 6-foot-5, 290-pound senior isn’t really wired like most high school football players. He’s a 3-star offensive tackle who insists you see him as more than just a 3-star offensive tackle.
The Nebraska signee in the 2017 class is also a straight-A student who is arguably more interested in computer programming than football. He’s a triplet and brother to four siblings, including two older sisters, and the son of two former college athletes. He’s a concert lover who once rode an air mattress down a river for his pre-college bucket list. And he’s someone who is defined by the things he does after he’s told he can’t.
Like get scholarship offers as a 235-pound tackle. Or play Division I college football. Or be both a full-time engineering student and a productive athlete.
Sichterman always begs to differ.
Not just another lineman
Life in northern Wisconsin for the Sichterman clan was a carousel of sports.
Triplets Dan, Matt and Megan were usually on the same sports teams, along with a handful of other kids in the neighborhood.
“We had probably 10 to 15 kids on the teams and then probably 10 to 12 coaches because all of us dads would hang out and coach,” says Mark Sichterman, Matt’s dad.
In elementary school an entire group of kids would jump from soccer to baseball to football to basketball every year. Rinse. Repeat.
That competitive upbringing within the family spilled over into academics, too.
Judy, Mark’s wife, gets the credit for instilling the love of learning in the kids at an early age, Mark says. When the triplets were little, she’d read them a book every night, which Mark thinks began the habit of learning. Judy did the same for Matt’s two older sisters, Claire and Lauren.
“We always thought that if they could read well then they would do well in school, too,” Mark said.
Matt says he and his siblings would compare report cards and note who had the best grades.
The family moved to the Cincinnati area from Wisconsin when Matt was in seventh grade, and it was around that time he started to show interest in computers and programming.
He’s always liked creating stuff. A love of Legos turned into a love of computers, and Matt decided his sophomore year at Kings that he’d pursue an engineering degree in college. He enrolled in Advanced Placement classes and began taking dual-credit classes through the University of Cincinnati so he could be a leg up once he chose a college.
That was about the same time football programs from across the country started noticing Matt’s skill on the field. As a 235-pound sophomore, colleges saw the frame of an offensive lineman. His footwork from basketball and short stints at tight end made him a different, and intriguing, prospect.
A Wisconsin fan growing up, Matt always liked the idea of playing for the Badgers. So as he started getting more attention, he reached out to the Wisconsin coaches to see if they had any interest.
“They told me if I got up to 265 pounds they’d offer me,” Matt said.
So that was his plan. But it wasn’t really what his coach, or his father, for that matter, wanted for Matt.
Olds and Mark thought Matt should play tight end, not tackle. His moves from the basketball court translated well to the field. His body already fit the mold. Plus, Mark was worried if Matt put on the weight Wisconsin wanted it could turn into health problems down the road.
But Matt knew what he wanted.
“When someone tells him he can’t do something I think at first it shuts him down,” Mark said. “And then for him it’s just like, ‘Fine. If you don’t think I’m going to do it, I’m going to go do it anyway without you.’ ”
So Matt learned to love the weight room. He worked with a personal trainer. He got up to 265 pounds in less than a year.
“The thing about Matt is first he became a good lineman, and then put on the weight,” Mark said.
So when when Matt messaged Wisconsin before his junior year that he was 265 pounds, he expected a response.
He says he was met with silence.
Which again shut Matt down, his dad says.
“It pissed me off, too,” Matt adds.
The feelings festered. And then, at his new weight, Matt dominated his junior year at Kings as a tackle.
“I’m a defensive coach so I don’t get as much time watching [offensive] film, but preparing for [this season] I was considering being an offensive coach, so I was watching more film,” Olds said. “And so I’m watching [Matt’s] junior season film and he blew me away. Really want to find out what a player can do, you need to watch a whole game. He didn’t have very many bad plays.”
After his junior year a flurry of offers came, the first on Christmas Day.
And beginning in January 2016, Matt entered the recruiting world with a plan: Instead of being courted by schools, he’d interview them.
He’d find a school where he was wanted. And he’d do it his way.
Coach Olds likes to say Matt “broke down the doors” of Kings High School.
The Ohio high school football world is dominated, he says, by private schools. That’s where colleges go to look for talent in Ohio. It’s where the Urban Meyers of the world walk the halls and talk to students.
And that’s an experience Olds has always wanted — for the head coach of a prominent Division I school to sit on the black couch in his office, surrounded by 32 years of football posters, and sell a program to one of his students.
“My friends coach at all these big schools and I’m always like, ‘What’s it like? What’s it like? What’s it like?’ ” Olds said. “This is my 32nd year and I’ve never had a player in a Power 5 school. So I thought, ‘Man, before I leave, I want to have one of those. Just once.’ ”
Enter the Sichterman family.
Dan was a 3-star defensive end with 16 offers. He ended up at Iowa State. Matt was a 3-star offensive tackle with 21 offers, including from Yale, Virginia, Duke, Nebraska, Michigan State and Northwestern.
Offensive and defensive coordinators came by the school, pitching their programs to the coach. Asking questions about Matt’s weight and Dan’s bull rush.
For Matt, though, it was important to flip the recruitment on its head and interview schools.
Sichterman ditched his idea of the co-op program at Cincinnati and scheduled 14 visits in 14 weekends in the offseason before his senior year. He, his father and brother piled into the car and drove seemingly everywhere weekend after weekend.
“If it was five or six hours from us we tried to visit it,” Mark said.
On those trips, Matt set up interviews with engineering students and academic advisers and did his best to stay in the dorms with players to get the full experience of the school.
“He was interviewing them, not the other way around,” Olds said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever have another guy who thinks the way he thinks.”
Despite offers from Yale, Harvard, Princeton and Dartmouth, Matt knew an Ivy League education probably wasn’t the right move. With a full athletic scholarship available, taking on student debt from a Yale or Harvard didn’t make sense.
“The Ivy schools don’t give football scholarships; a lot of people don’t know that,” Matt said. “It’s all just need-based. So I could’ve gotten a decent amount of need-based scholarship money, but that just wasn’t for me.”
But Matt still wanted a top-tier education. So his first visit was to Northwestern.
The night of his visit, he went to a concert with some players on campus. And while there, he looked around the crowd.
“I felt like I had literally seen these people on campus,” Matt said.
So he knew he wanted a bigger school.
His next visit was Penn State’s spring game on April 16, 2016. Matt fell in love with the idea of 75,000 people at a spring game. But Penn State didn’t offer Matt afterward.
So he knew he wanted to be a priority for a school.
A week later he checked out Michigan State’s spring game. That day, Spartans coach Mark Dantonio did offer Matt a scholarship, but Matt didn’t really click with offensive line coach Mark Staten.
“He just kind of treated me like another recruit,” Matt said.
So he knew he wanted a position coach who made him a priority.
Finally, on May 13, Matt rolled into Lincoln. He stepped out of his car in front of Memorial Stadium, and lining the steps inside stood a handful of Nebraska’s assistant coaches, all sporting T-shirts with Matt’s No. 77.
“So I just felt the love right when I got on campus,” Matt said.
On the tour of Memorial Stadium, Matt could picture the 90,000 fans on game day.
Nebraska offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh sang Matt’s praises all weekend. How he’d fit into the offense and how much Nebraska wanted him.
On his tour of the engineering college, students showed off final projects and gave Matt a tour of the Drone Lab, even flying a small drone around a classroom as a demonstration.
Check, check, check.
“Just checked everything off my list,” Matt said of Nebraska.
He canceled a trip to Tennessee the following week, and FaceTimed Mike Riley on the drive home from Lincoln, breaking the news that he’d be committing.
“Regardless if my diploma says Harvard [or not], I’m going to go to Nebraska and be a football player in front of 90,000, and they’ll have plenty of help for me to graduate with an engineering degree,” Matt said.
Plus, Matt likes the idea of living in Lincoln, where tech companies from across the country are flocking to join Nebraska-based startup companies such as Hudl. For a software engineer, beginning a job at a place like Hudl is sort of the dream, Matt says.
“For me in terms of what I’m interested in doing after college, it seems like Lincoln would be perfect with all [those companies] in Lincoln,” Matt said.
The Huskers might redshirt Matt, in a way saying he’s not quite ready to play college football.
But that would be all right with Matt. It’ll fuel him.
“There’s the old adage if you’re the best shooter in the gym, you’re in the wrong gym,” Olds said. “He’s been the best guy in practice every day for years, so now he goes to a place where he’s not the best. And he needs that, needs that to grow.”
Besides, Matt isn’t just a football player. Never has been.
As Olds sees it, another year of school for Matt might actually be good.
“He’ll just be one year closer to his master’s degree.”