PROVO — For the second time in as many years, BYU’s Matt Hadley will experience Senior Night festivities Saturday when the Cougars host New Mexico State.
But this version will be much different from the other.
“It’s pretty emotional for me personally. I already had one of these last year. I didn’t know if I was going to get another one,” Hadley said. “I’m grateful that I’m here. It’s gratitude and humility.”
Hadley suffered a broken kneecap early in the 2017 season as a senior and played in only four games before undergoing season-ending surgery. He was hoping to receive a medical hardship waiver to get his senior year back.
Over the summer, the NCAA granted him the waiver and the 6-foot, 210-pounder from Connell, Washington, received a senior-year do-over, and he's made the most of it, playing on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
Recently, he’s become a key offensive contributor at running back. Hadley has been the Cougars’ leading rusher in the past four games as Squally Canada and Lopini Katoa have been hampered by injuries.
Who would have guessed he’d be BYU’s most effective running back at this point of the season?
Not that he’s new to the position. Hadley rushed for 2,516 yards and a state-record 47 touchdowns as a junior at Connell High, and he finished his prep career with 6,881 rushing yards and a state-record 746 points.
This time, Hadley will be on the field for Senior Night.
“Last year was more sorrow, I think, just because I wasn’t able to play. I had missed so much,” he said. “This was my senior game. The emotions this year are just gratitude and humility; thankful to be here.”
Hadley has rushed 44 times for 264 yards, averaging 6 yards per carry, and has scored two touchdowns this season. He’s also caught five passes for 86 yards, including a 59-yard screen pass that gave the Cougars a chance to win at Boise State in the final minute.
Meanwhile, Hadley has recorded seven tackles and a pass breakup as a linebacker this season as well. On special teams, he’s had one kickoff return for 16 yards.
How has he dealt with the position changes?
“It’s been a roller-coaster, emotionally and, obviously, mentally as well to go back-and-forth and learn the offense and then re-figure out the defense,” Hadley said. “Our coaches have done a fantastic job helping me make sure I’m ready each and every week. It’s been really good.”
Coach Kalani Sitake has been impressed with Hadley’s team-first mentality.
“He’s another guy that we’ve changed positions with him a number of times. We started him on the offensive side last year and we moved him to safety to linebacker to running back to linebacker again and back to running back. He’s been all about the team,” he said. “He’s one that comes to mind when you think of guys that have embraced change. He doesn’t really worry about how it’s going to affect him personally. He just worries about the team first. He’s just one of many seniors that really care about this school and care about this program.”
“He’s handled it great. I really respect him as a player and as a person. I can definitely understand how he felt because I was also moved to running back earlier this season,” senior safety Tanner Jacobson said of Hadley. “I know he was working as hard as he could, from day one, trying to get there, helping other guys. Going early, staying late, asking questions, working on this and that. Him getting the year back and probably having the idea what his year would look like and then having that idea kind of flipped on its head. I’m really proud of him and I respect him a lot for the attitude he’s maintained. I’ve been really excited for the success he’s had that he’s deserved, that he’s worked toward.”
If all of those changes that Hadley has gone through weren’t enough, he recently became a father. His wife, Chloe, gave birth to their first child, a girl named Scotlynn, hours after the Northern Illinois game.
As he heads into his final home game, Hadley has reflected on his career and what he’s learned.4 comments on this story
“A lot of huge life lessons. Some of them can’t be put into words. They’ve come through the experiences I’ve gone through,” Hadley said. “One of the biggest things that I’ve taken away is just persistence. You’ve just got to keep going, no matter what you’re doing in life. You’ve got to keep going. That’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned through injuries and position changes. A lot of the players can probably say the same thing.”
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Cougars on the air
New Mexico State (3-7) at BYU (5-5)
Saturday, 8:15 MST, LaVell Edwards Stadium
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM