Bartow Sports Zone is proud to bring you the next installment of the Q & A series: “Where Are They Now?” The current series of articles features former Bartow County football players. In this edition, the Q & A is with former Woodland football letterman -- Matt Stephens
Name: Matt Stephens Age: 31 PART ONE: High School What years you were at Woodland, what was your position and who was the head coach? I was at Woodland from 1999 to 2003. On the offensive side, I played slot and wide-out. On defense, I played some free safety and corner. On special teams, I returned kicks, was a gunner on the punt team, occasionally returned punts and held for extra points… John Camp was our head coach all four years.
Do you have a favorite coach from Woodland? If so, who and why? That’s easy for me, but I have two: Todd Wofford and Todd Simpson. I am naturally drawn to people who effortlessly lead with a lot of candor and passion. To reach your full potential, you must surround yourself with selfless people who do not choose convenience, feelings or comfort over progress, improvement or results. My relationships with these two weren’t always “fun” or “happy,” but were far and away the most genuine and valuable. Favorite teammate and why? My favorites were Jermile Richards and Kanne Ikwuezunma. I love those two guys. Both are very hard workers and hate to lose as much as I do. True competitors to the core and great athletes. Favorite moment? The talk Todd Wofford had with me after the Etowah game my Junior year. I started the season off strong and made a touchdown catch against Etowah as the clock ran out at half time. People were starting to notice me and I could tell that other teams were putting more focus on covering my part of the field. After the Etowah game, Coach Wofford called me in to a meeting room by myself and gave me one of the most valuable reality checks I’ve ever had. For about ten minutes, Coach explained that although I had made a “few big plays and people in the crowd are cheering” (in Wofford’s signature tone), my mediocre blocking and route running wasn’t good enough for him. The status quo simply does not exist with these guys. Best player you played against in high school? Best you played with? The best I played with in high school is hands down, Kwento Ikwuezunma. Kwento was a senior when I was a freshman and had a big influence on me. The best I played against was probably Mahlon Carey, South Cobb’s running back my junior year. He was great at waiting for the play to develop and hitting the open holes. He really went about half-speed until he saw something he wanted, which is a brilliant move in high school football
PART TWO: College What years you were at Newberry, what was your position and who was the head coach? I was at Newberry from 2003-2004. I played slot receiver and returned kicks. Zak Willis was our head coach.
Who else recruited you? Why did you choose Newberry? I was not really recruited by anyone. Coach Simpson found a last-minute opportunity for me to visit a one day combine at Newberry, which was the only time I ever attended anything like that, other than summer camp at Furman. Newberry ran the spread and threw the ball a lot, which was what I wanted. We also had the second best recruiting class in South Carolina that year: PHOTO right: Matt Stephens with parents David and Susan Stephens and Todd Simpson
USC Newberry Clemson Furman What years you lettered: I was a redshirt while I was there, so I didn’t earn a varsity letter. Do you have a favorite coach from Newberry? If so, who and why? Coach Willis was my favorite. Super hard-nosed football coach and did not put up with anything or anyone that did not align with our team goals. Favorite teammate and why? My favorite teammate would have to be Donavin Fludd. Donavin was a super hard hitting cornerback, loved his teammates and hated to lose. Favorite moment? Tymere Zimmerman’s one-handed catch against Mars Hill. The ball was thrown way over Tymere’s head and out of bounds, but he somehow managed to grab it while on the run, up and behind his body. It was the best catch I’ve ever seen in a live football game. Best player you played against in college? Best you played with? Ricardo Colclough from Tusculum was the best we played against, but one of our wide-outs, Derrick Higgins scored four touchdowns on him. Derrick was a Shrine Bowl player the same year that Tymere was in high school and both could have played on Sunday. Best I played with would be Tymere Zimmerman (played in the Army All-American Game, Shrine Bowl player). It was difficult to stand out on our team, because we had so many great players. Just at receiver, we had four Shrine Bowl players. Tymere ran incredible routes and could catch anything.
PART THREE: What is your life after football like? I graduated from Ole Miss with a degree in Risk Management back in 2008 and lived/worked in Atlanta until moving to Greenville, South Carolina, where I work in the healthcare tech/SaaS industry. I also donate a lot of my time as a board member of a few non-profit organizations. International Giving – Atlanta-based, charitable giving organization SCOTA (South Carolina Occupational Therapy Association) – Columbia-based, professional legislation/advocacy association How did football affect your life in a positive way and do you have any advice for young players? Football is the game of life. As a player, you have personal ups and downs, team wins and losses, and good and bad influences on and off the field. There are very few situations that I’ve encountered post-football that I cannot relate back to something I experienced on the field and had to work through mentally or physically. I would say that the game made me very mentally resilient, which is very valuable to anyone who focuses on building and scaling startups and early stage companies. For the young guys out there, I have two pieces of advice: Take control of your own goals and do not allow anyone to deter you from exceeding your own expectations. Avoid the people that do not make you feel good about yourself and get rid of the ones who do not reciprocate the same level of respect and support you have shown them. Do this now and do not wait. Tell your parents, teachers, coaches and mentors what you want out of life and ask them for help. If you want to do something extraordinary, you will need all the help you can get. As a matter of fact, asking for help is a sign of power and is extraordinary in and of itself. Not everyone has the courage to pursue something so difficult that it requires you to be so humble, so find something to pursue that will force you to stay hungry and humble. Find Derwin Jones as soon as you can, stick with him and you will reach your full athletic potential. He will make you realize potential that no one else can.