A 34-year-old Marine Corps veteran, husband, and father of two suited up and made his college football debut for the University of Virginia Cavaliers over the weekend.
On Saturday, Matt Ganyard handled kickoff responsibilities for the Cavaliers — also sometimes referred to as the Wahoos or the ‘Hoos — as they faced the Tennessee Volunteers in Nashville.
But Ganyard’s journey with the UVA football program actually began in spring 2009, when he was still a freshman working on an undergraduate degree in history. He had played soccer in high school and decided to try out for the football team as a walk-on. Though Ganyard reportedly hit all nine of his field goal attempts during tryouts, he soon received a rejection letter via email.
Shane Caffrey, a longtime friend and former bunkmate during a deployment to the Middle East, recalled seeing the rejection email on Ganyard’s electronic devices. “Anytime I had to unplug his iPad, his screen would light up and you’d see it,” Caffrey said.
During Ganyard’s 10 years in the Marine Corps, he worked mainly as an AH-1 Cobra helicopter pilot. He also spent much of his downtime perfecting his kicking skills, frequently watching YouTube and other videos to help him hone his technique. Caffrey was often tapped to shag balls for him.
“There were no uprights, but his target was over the soccer net,” Caffrey claimed. “And a bunch of us were chasing the balls.”
In 2015, Ganyard married a fellow UVA grad named Marie, and the couple now have two children. Though Ganyard had thus already fulfilled many of his life goals when he returned to UVA to pursue an MBA at the Darden School of Business this summer, he decided to give football one last shot. This time, there was no rejection letter.
“Sixteen years later, the dream lives on… I’m truly humbled to announce that at 34 years young, I’m officially a member of the @UVAFootball team,” Ganyard posted to X on August 2. “… Now, it’s time to get to work.”
Ganyard may have qualified for the team based on skill, but he still had another hurdle to overcome: NCAA eligibility. Though he’d never played a down of college football in his life, his eligibility still technically began in 2008 when he first enrolled at UVA. His military service unwittingly put that eligibility on hold, but he still needed a waiver from the NCAA to receive one more year of eligibility.
That waiver came through earlier this month, so Ganyard, now considered a sixth-year player, was free take on yet another pressing challenge: learning the nuances of American football, a dramatic change from his years as a European-style football player. “I don’t know enough about football,” he admitted, according to OutKick. “I’m still learning, and putting on the pads was one thing.
“I look over to [a teammate] next to me and say, ‘Okay, so this goes on first?’ I felt like the scene from ‘Little Giants’ where he holds up the cup: ‘Does this go here?'” he joked.
Though he may be new to American football, he’s already performed well enough to be named the Cavaliers’ kickoff man — which could mean attempting to tackle a speedy kickoff returner roughly half his age, should things go awry.
“I know that’s a real possibility if I don’t put it out of the end zone,” Ganyard said. “I’ve made sure to ask the coaches, ‘Can we teach me how to tackle?'”
Despite his relatively advanced age and lack of American football experience, he seems to have earned the respect of his teammates, who affectionally refer to him as Pop-Pop, Grandpa, and Uncle Matt.
“I think they’ve realized in the past three weeks that I’m just another guy with a little more life experience, but at the end of the day, I’m just another guy here to help the team succeed on the field,” Ganyard said.
Succeed they did not last Saturday, falling a humbling 49-13 to the Volunteers, but the Wahoos still have a long season to go. They will have their next chance this Saturday at home against the Dukes of James Madison. As of Monday morning, the visiting Dukes are favored by 6.5.
FOOTBALL: Week 1 – Matt Ganyardwww.youtube.com
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