Another high school football season has come and gone. The “Dawgz” first suited up in September when the weather was warm, and the days long. Our boys grinded out a few non-league games to open up the academic year. A win. A loss. Blood spilt. Sweat secreted. Tears cried. With shortening daylight hours and aspens turned gold, we headed into league play. Standings count. Points added up. Homecoming weekend passed on through again. Then, the first light snowfall of the season dusted the mountains. Wind-sprints at practice. Under Armour cold-weather thermals became standard gear. Pick six in a game. Caravans of athletes, drivers, coaches, and parents crawled across the State of California, down U.S. 395 to battle as long and far as the battle happened to take us. And, then, it ended. A season finishing 5 – 5. Most seniors finished playing football forever. Not, however, for MHS Class of 2014 Athlete of the Week Matt “44 MAG” Graef. This young man will hang up his cardinal and gold high school jersey, with sights set on playing at the next collegiate level.
We all know “44 MAG.” As Assistant Coach Andrew Jones told me of Graef, “He is the heart and soul of our team. As Matt goes, we go.” Number 44 has been playing football for 11 years. He started with Mammoth Youth Football League at age 7. He has played every position in the book. The last eight years he committed as running back, with four years on defense as linebacker. I asked Graef which side of the line of scrimmage he prefers more. “Defense, because you don’t have to think. You react.” Jones told me of Graef, “From the statistical standpoint, he led the team in the Desert Mountain League with 135 tackles. He also scored four touchdowns as fullback, which is mainly a blocking position.”
I asked Matt where he gets his drive? Inside, Matt is “determined to beat the other guy across from me.” He thrives off of competition. As for an external motivator, he loves his pop, Ed. All that the two of them talk about, according to Matt, is “football and school.” I asked Matt a bit about the bow shooting and hunting his father Ed is so well-known for. There is more to the Graef family conversations than just X’s and O’s and next week’s anatomy class quiz. Matt learned how to shoot bows from his dad at the ripe age of three. It is a special relationship that they share, which takes them to bow shoots on the top of the grade off 395, to tournaments, to backcountry hunts. When I asked Graef if he considers hunting a sport, he told me, “Yes. It is both physical and mental.” This is a hometown young man.
Matt is about to begin his fourth year playing basketball. He has a lot of faith in the team this season. “I expect the team to win league,” he said. He is ready to shoot hoops, and compete with such teammates as Fox Kailiawa, Denis Orrick, Liam Carrigan, and Cole Presson. I can sense the pride he has for his winter season team.
And, when fishing season opens he will be playing baseball for Mammoth High. This will be his third year. MHS Head Baseball Coach Scott Luke told me of 44-Mag, “Matt exudes leadership, class, effort, commitment, and a relentless pursuit of victory through honor. He is a three-sport athlete who is an honor to coach. A great representative of Mammoth High School and our community.”
Matt has applied to attend college at Puget Sound, Chapman, Whittier, and Azusa-Pacific. He is undecided on a major, and has calculated that he has two years of general education to do a bit of looking around. He will play football in school. He is currently being recruited for the position of linebacker or safety.
Academics come easily to Graef. At MHS, he enjoys his science and mathematics classes. When I asked him why, he simply stated, “I like working with numbers more than words.” That’s Matt Graef for you, a stand-up player whose stats speak for themselves. Jones knows Matt will be a major asset to the next team he plays on. “He has a big, huge heart,” Jones said. “He comes to work every day. He is a huge senior leader, an overall team captain. He is the epitome of what we want an MHS football athlete to be: great grades, great character, great athlete.”
Matt’s favorite teams to watch are the USC Trojans and Texas Longhorns. Both universities have two of the most storied football programs in the nation. As for Matt’s advice for you, “Never give up.”
Matt, we are going to miss seeing you play on the Gault-McClure field. However, you left your mark on the gridiron in this community. And, for that, our town says, “Thank you, 44 MAG.”