Hard work leads Hadley from the farm to the field
Growing up on a dairy farm in the small city of Connell, Washington, Matt Hadley learned from an early age the importance of dedication, humility and patience. These lessons have molded him into a player that excels at multiple positions at BYU and endured an injury that nearly ended his college career. His diligence to develop a compassionate nature selfless attitude and strong work ethic has given him a strong love for football and his teammates.
While many of Hadley’s friends in Washington grew up on hay or potato farms, Hadley’s family focused on livestock and their dairy farm. From a young age, he was expected to pull his weight in the farm responsibilities with the rest of the family, requiring countless early mornings and late nights.
“We bottle-fed around 200 calves every morning and night,” said his mother, Kathryn. “He was a part of all that from a very early age. Even before he was five, he was down there collecting bottles.”
“Early mornings for us started in late elementary or early middle school,” Hadley explained. “We were expected to wake up before school, so usually a little before 6 a.m. We would get down there to feed the calves and do our chores at the dairy. Then we would come back to get ready and go to school.”
As Hadley got older, the demands and expectations for him to contribute increased. Through most of high school his assignment was to take the night shift to check on the heifers. Alongside his siblings, Hadley’s responsibilities grew to also include branding, vaccinating, tractor work and fence building.
“I’m really close with all my siblings,” Hadley said. “Growing up on a farm puts you through some pretty stressful situations, but it brings you a lot closer.”
At school, basketball was Hadley’s favorite sport, but once he realized he didn’t have the complete basketball skill set, he focused more on developing his football career. He grew up around his two older brothers and cousins playing and decided that he wanted to follow in their footsteps.
“My passion was running the ball,” Hadley said. “I loved doing it. That’s where I felt most comfortable.”
It wasn’t long before Hadley was setting school, district and state records. He was named the Seattle Times Player of the Year three years in a row – a big accomplishment coming from a small-town school.
However, Hadley had more than just the technical game skills. He possessed the humility and sportsmanship that made him the type of player to give all the credit to his team and opponents as well.
His parents recount how in one state playoff game against a team picked to win state, Hadley’s team rose to victory.
“Our team was over-the-top celebrating,” Kathryn said. “I asked, ‘Where’s Matt?’ The other team’s quarterback was laying down in the snow, crying. Matt ran across the field and knelt down in the snow with him helmet to helmet. The coach came over and said ‘I wish every player was like you.’ It was a powerful moment.”
When it was time for Hadley to make the decision about college ball, he was also presented with offers to throw javelin at the collegiate level. The decision was clear though – Hadley wanted to play BYU football. He was born to bleed blue and verbally committed to Bronco Mendenhall before he was a junior in high school.
As a freshman on the former, one of Hadley’s most memorable experiences was being able to play with his older brother, linebacker Spencer Hadley. Spencer had been one of Hadley’s biggest inspirations to pursue a BYU football career.
In the 2012 Hawai’i game, Hadley came down from his safety position to make a tackle in the backfield. After the play, “I looked over and saw my brother halfway out on the field running to me. It was just second down, but my brother was trying to be the first one out there. That was the epitome of what it was like to play with him.”
Throughout his time at BYU, Hadley’s skills have been utilized at multiple positions, including safety, linebacker and running back. Hadley started as a safety his freshman year and continued after returning from a mission in Brazil.
In 2016, Hadley entered his third season and a new position at defensive back and on special teams. That year he recorded 25 tackles and a 41-yard return and lead the team with a 27.9 kick return average.
A week before the first game of the 2017 season, Hadley was moved to linebacker. He had only played a couple games as linebacker in high school, so playing a new style of defense was an adjustment. Although difficult at first, Hadley’s game sense and natural skill made for a fluid transition.
“Growing up really learning how to run the ball and then coming over to the other side playing linebacker felt comfortable for me,” he said. “It wasn’t as tough as a transition as I thought it would be.”
Hadley’s teammates and coaches realize that not just any player could be this flexible and capable of adapting to so many positions. Not only did he adapt, but he excelled because of his natural athleticism.
“He’s a great player because he’s such a versatile athlete,” said Hadley’s best friend and teammate, Tanner Mangum. “He’s good at safety because he’s got the speed. He’s also good at linebacker because he’s strong and can come up and hit. That’s rare to find someone who does a lot of different things well.”
However, Hadley was injured the week of practice right before the LSU game. It wasn’t until after playing the next four games that he realized the severity.
“We found out my kneecap was broken,” Hadley explained. “The bone was broken completely off and I needed to have surgery. I thought, ‘Five games in, what do I do?’ I decided to go through with the surgery and apply for the medical redshirt.”
Unfortunately, it wasn’t going to be that easy. In order to meet the NCAA rules, an injury must happen in the first half of the season and before playing more than 30 percent of the games. Hadley went through the appeal process for four months, not knowing whether or not he would be able to play another year of college football.
“We had 13 games and I played in five, so the percentage was somewhere around 38 percent, but we went through an appeal process and in April, the NCAA eventually granted it to me,” said Hadley. “For my wife and I it was a pretty challenging time just because I emotionally had checked out.”
Everyone told Hadley that he had lost his chance. When he got the news for the redshirt appeal, he was shocked and immediately switched back into the game-mode mindset to prepare for the next season.
Now playing his final season, Hadley has already experienced multiple position changes. He started fall camp and the first three games as a running back. Following the McNeese State game, Hadley was moved back to linebacker before again going to running back game against Hawai’i. That night, Hadley’s had a career-high 91 yards on nine attempts, a game-high 39-yard rush and his first touchdown.
“He’s one of the best natural athletes on the team,” said assistant head coach Ed Lamb. “He’s already played tailback, safety, linebacker and specials teams as both a coverage guy and a kick returner. You would have to go back a lot of years before you found someone that contributed to this program that much.”
From his days on the farm to games on the football field, Hadley has become a player that is loyal to the game and his team. The lessons he learned growing up instilled a strong work ethic that has brought him success and respect at BYU. Even after the scare of a season-ending injury, Hadley has returned for his final year more driven and excited than ever.
“Anything that he’s allowed to do out there, we will be cheering and celebrating,” Kathryn said. “We are excited for him and the whole team. It goes without saying, we’re pretty fond of number two.”
BYU football wrapped up its first week of fall camp with its fifth practice on Saturday morning.