Matt Rhodes has been part of the elitefts team for roughly 12 years. He was first brought on as an athlete (he jokes that as a powerlifter, he can’t call himself an athlete) and is now a coach.
He got his start playing basketball in fifth grade, which he attributes to being five-foot-seven, setting him a head above most of his classmates. Then, come middle school, he shot up to a towering six-foot-one, so obviously, he was going to play more basketball. However, Matt wanted to play hockey, but his father insisted he stick to basketball.
In his heart, Matt knew he wanted to play football more than anything, but there was at least one big obstacle: Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects connective tissue. Doctors diagnosed Matt with it when he was five years old, and it’s also why he had heart surgery a couple of years ago.
But Marfan syndrome and his parents’ concerns about his health did little to deter him from what he felt was his calling. In middle school, he tried to get his parents to at least let him be a punter — even though his middle school didn’t even have a team.
Then in high school, Matt got the green light: he played not only football but also soccer and lacrosse. Looking to college, he wanted to play football but was getting recruited for Division II and Division II basketball and Division I lacrosse.
“Nobody wanted me to play football. My high school coach told me, ‘Oh, don’t worry about football, you’ll never play again. Just concentrate on lacrosse.’ And I listened to him. At 18 years old, I listened to him because I didn’t know any better.”
Off Matt went to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he played lacrosse for two years. There, he realized that he was not prepared for college, and on top of that, this school was not a good fit for him socially and academically.
His sister went to the University of Arizona as a freshman while he was a sophomore, so he tagged along to visit the campus.
He fell in love with it; the campus environment felt warm and welcoming to him. So, Matt decided to transfer.
“I got in, told my dad; he was not happy because I went to a private school in high school, and they spent a lot of money for me to go to high school, and I got college paid for. My mom was like, ‘We’ll take care of it, don’t you worry. Don’t worry about your father.’”
Once he arrived back on campus, he decided right then and there, he was going to play football.
And he did. Matt made the team.
He attributes making it to the fact he played a variety of positions in high school. He was usually a long snap, but he also played wide receiver, tight end, quarterback, running back, center, offensive lineman, and defensive end. The walk-on coordinator needed more tight ends, so that’s what Matt played.
“I made the team as a long snapper, and I made the ‘go-to-summer-camp’ as a tight end. I don’t know how because I wasn’t very good.”
Matt played two years there in multiple positions — essentially, he played what he was told to play.
Then, he got a job coaching football at the University of Richmond for Jim Reid, who’d played football with Matt’s dad in college.
Initially, Matt called Jim to do a summer camp, and Jim straight-up offered him a job a week after graduating. Matt wasn’t going to say no to that, even though Jim told him to be there on Monday (Matt recalls calling Jim on a Thursday).
“I’m like, ‘Yeah, sure, I’ll be there.’ He was in Richmond, Virginia, and I hung up the phone. The phone rings. ‘Hello?’ ‘Put your father on the phone!’ He asked my father for permission because the money was so bad. I made $3,000 my first year. $276.05 a month is what I made my first year. It was a rough go... My dad was like, ‘Get him out of the house!’”
In his second year of coaching in Richmond, Matt received a call from a local arena football team asking if he wanted to play. “YUP, I am in!”
Not long after, Matt was out due to a neck injury that almost required spinal cervical fusion surgery. “It’s time to hang up this stupid dream. It’s not going to happen.” Jim gave Matt his coaching job back, but as he was rehabbing his neck, Matt realized that he really loved lifting weights.
He decided he was going to become a strength and conditioning coach. He got in touch with all sorts of coaches, and eventually, Buddy Morris (who was at Pittsburgh then) had Matt come on down.
“I realized at 27 years old, I had no money, I had nothing. I had to get a job. I bounced around doing stupid stuff and I ended up getting a job in personal training down in the Greenwich, Connecticut, area, which is, there’s a lot of money down there. Like, a lot of people from, like, the financial district in New York live up there; there’s movie stars. I used to see Christopher Walken at the grocery store. He would never leave his car, though. He would sit in his car while his wife went grocery shopping. I waved at him once and he waved back.”
That gig made him a lot of money, but he didn’t really love it. Still, it gave him a chance to be in the weight room and wear shorts and a T-shirt to work. He worked as a personal trainer for 10 years and decided, “I want to see how much I know.”
At the ripe age of 36, Matt resolved to become a strength coach. He went back to job hunting and contacting coaches until finally someone told him to come on down for a volunteer internship at Yale University.
Matt worked full-time while interning at Yale, which was 40 minutes from where he was. He estimates he spent 50 a week hours doing personal training while he drove up to Yale and back three times a week.
His hard work paid off and opened some doors.
“The assistant at Yale played football in college with the head coach at Albany, so I got my first job at the University of Albany in upstate New York. One of our softball players at Albany did an internship, a summer internship, at Rhode Island. When a job opened there, she told the head coach, ‘Hire this guy!’ That’s how I got my job at Rhode Island. The assistant at Yale at that time had become the head coach at Morehead State, where I am now. He got another job, he recommended me to the athletic director. That’s how I got the job there. That’s how I moved up the ladder.”
He went from being a volunteer intern in 2012 to the head coach at Morehead State in 2014. Matt attributes a blend of luck, knowing the right people at the right time, being able to interview properly, and putting his best foot forward.
“People I knew got my foot in the door, and I got myself through the door.”