MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Football fans know “Matty Ice” fairly well — the ice in his veins Boston College product turned NFL quarterback who came agonizingly close to winning a Super Bowl last year.
This isn’t a story about Matt Ryan, but rather Matt Minard — a Morgantown native, WVU student, and University High School product who hasn’t played football in a handful of years.
That ended this semester, though. But it wasn’t for WVU, or Fairmont State, or Glenville State, or any other area school.
“Whenever I went to the first practice, I was asking some questions,” Minard said. “And, as soon as I opened my mouth, they were like, ‘Is that an American accent?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah.'”
That was in England, in fact — where Minard was studying for a semester abroad at the University of Kent.
“They got really excited,” Minard said.
That’s because Minard was one of just two Americans to join the fledgling English-American college football program, where his defensive prowess through seven games aided in the school’s first ever appearance in the national semifinals.
“I knew that football had a following over here in the UK, but I didn’t realize that they actually had college football teams,” he said via Skype on WAJR’s Morgantown AM.
The former Hawk found British college football during his first week at a fair in a dining hall — catching the eye of a few students walking around in Kent football jerseys.
“I was able to play in the last four,” he said. “I decided just to sign up and give it a try. Really didn’t know what to expect, but it was a great time.”
It was news — though not unwelcome news — for Minard’s parents.
“They were really confused,” he said. “They were like, is it inter-mural or touch, two-hand touch, flag, something like that? No, it’s full 11-on-11 full contact just like back home. They were surprised, but they were excited.”
Kent was unbeaten in Minard’s four regular season appearances, and he was part of their first ever 8-0 season.
“It’s fairly new,” he said. “They don’t usually grow up playing it. Most of the guys on the team have played for two to three years. And, again, I probably had more practices in one season in America than I would have in four years here.”
Kent only practiced twice per week; there were no mandatory group lifts either.
“So, six years of it back home, and a lot of muscle memory comes back and a lot of that technique sticks with you. After shaking the rust off for a practice or two, you kind of get back into it quicker than you think.”
That’s something, Minard assumed, that would make UHS coach John Kelly proud.
“We’ve stayed in contact a little bit over the years by social media,” Minard said. “And he was putting out posts about it on Twitter and Facebook telling people about the games. He’s been pretty supportive.”
The season didn’t end after four games though. Minard, a defensive tackle, was named the defensive MVP during a narrow 7-6 playoff victory, one of two post-season wins before the Falcons season came to an end in the semifinals.
“They’d only won one playoff game in their history, and we won two to get to the national semifinals,” Minard said. “It was a seven game career, but it was a lot of fun.”
But how did Minard come to share a nickname with the 2016 NFL MVP? Your hint: it had nothing to do with Kent and Atlanta sharing the Falcons moniker.
“We have five Matt’s on the team,” Minard said. “There are three on defense alone, so you have to differentiate.”
Of course, that’s not the entire story. In one of his first practices, Minard laid a punishing hit on a ball-carrier while the offense was practicing a reverse.
“One of my teammates, the one who gives all the nicknames, Fez, he started saying, ‘Ooh, he needs some ice. He needs some ice.’ So then, he started calling me ice man and then that became Matty Ice just to differentiate me from the other Matt’s because each Matt had their own little name.”
Kent fell to Bristol in the semifinals, but Minard said it was a unique experience to finish up his time overseas.
“My body wouldn’t have been able to take a full season. So I think seven games is more than enough.”
Matt Ryan may not need to look over his shoulder for Matt Minard, but West Virginia can now celebrate its very own “Matty Ice.”