By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
Listen to Marc Matthie talk about how to become a better football player and part of a better team, and the conversation quickly becomes about how to become a better person off the field.
It is a message he delivers with great enthusiasm and gusto, and one that he has brought to the Port City as he takes charge of the T.C. Williams football team. Matthie arrives with the Titans after guiding Centreville to three state championship appearances and a title in 2013 at the end of an undefeated season.
Preparations for the new season kicked into high gear Monday after an offseason of strength and conditioning work. Matthie packed his players into the campus rotunda for a brief meeting before their first full training session, in which he outlined his expectations and his vision for the upcoming season.
“If you think this is about picking up a ball and playing football, you are sadly mistaken,” Matthie told his players. “This is about using football to make you a better person.”
Over the course of their 30-minute meeting, Matthie went on to explain his philosophy and desire to see each player reach their full potential both in high school and beyond.
“I think that’s the reason why sports are here,” Matthie said in an interview. “Sports is here not for self-exploitation or self-gratification, it’s really here for the ability to learn and to grow, because there’s no truer sense of teaching you about real life than athletics. You’re going to deal with failures, you’re going to deal with successes and the big question is, can we get our kids to learn how to deal with those things when the game is not life?”
For the players, Matthie’s new regime represents an opportunity to grow and succeed, especially for the seniors as they prepare for life after T.C. Williams.
“It’s really profound what they’re trying to do here, trying to not just only get us to grow as a team but get us to grow as young men as well so we can be productive citizens in society,” said senior running back Mahlique Booth. “I think that’s what I appreciate most about Coach Matthie.
“No matter what you can say about him, he is truly here to better you as a person — all you’ve got to do is buy into what he has to say. If you do that, you’ll achieve things you never thought you could.”
The idea that every player must subscribe to the process is a key aspect of Matthie’s vision, and the seniors on the roster know the onus is on them to ensure that every player is held accountable and doing their part.
“As a leader, I just make sure everybody buys in, from the young ones all the way up to the older cats,” said senior defensive back Chris Waddell. “Make sure everybody gets it, everybody is on time, everybody is doing the right thing and not following the wrong crowd or anything like that.”
“As leaders of the team, us seniors need to step up and make sure everybody does it every single day, day in and day out,” said senior wide receiver and defensive back Tom Huston. “Like coach said, just make sure we have no regrets, make sure every day we’re getting better.”
Several players spoke of their desire to unite the community around them once more and take advantage of their unique position as the only public high school in the city of Alexandria.
“What would make this season a great season would just be everybody in the city being happy and proud of what we’ve accomplished, not even winning a state championship but just maybe going to the playoffs and just having people say that T.C. is back, the program is back,” said senior defensive tackle and center Ravon Bridges.
After a poor 2014 in which they finished 2-8, Titans players are hopeful of returning to the playoffs, but they are not just chasing a simple benchmark.
“I would say right now the way the playoffs work, T.C. Williams should make the playoffs every year,” Matthie said. “That’s I guess the tangible success. Whenever you get to the playoffs, it’s up to your seniors; it’s kind of up to where your players are to figure out where they need to go.
“We’ve been very fortunate in my previous stops where we had players that bought in, who realized what we needed to do and then they took from the coaches what was needed and they coached themselves essentially during those playoff games and got themselves to the state championship games.”
“Besides personal stats, the thing that makes a successful season is the fact that you can look back and say, ‘I gave everything I had, and I never held back in one moment,’” Booth said. “When you do that, then you had a successful season because that means there was no doubt in you. That means that everything you did, you meant to do, there was never any iffy moments. You took every opportunity you could to be the best you could be.”