Feature: Football's Matt Luft
by Nicole Yurchak
Matt Luft, one of the best wide receivers ever to take the field for the Crimson, is back for his senior year. The California native enters Saturday's game with 125 career receptions and averages 16.3 yards per catch. He is two catches out of fourth place on the school's all-time list and his 16.3 ypc average is best in school history. Luft's excellence on the gridiron began when his father, a former University of Southern California athlete, introduced him to flag football as a child. Since then, his career has been a success leading Luft to contemplate continuing his football career after graduation.
Luft explains one of the biggest changes for him came his freshman year with Coach Ron Crook and his unique style of coaching. At the time, a system had been implemented to grade each player on his performance during and after each play at practice. "Coach would write comments on a sheet of paper. One aspect of it was called ‘mental errors'. The one I remember the most was when I was supposed to run a ‘shell'. However, I had no clue what I was supposed to do so I just ran up the field. The quarterback went through his whole progression and had to come back and try to find me but I wasn't where I should have been. Needless to say, he got sacked and I got in trouble for it." Luft says that incidents like that made him become a much tougher player mentally. He adds, "Obviously, when you go somewhere to play a sport, you want to do well. Personally, I feel like I've done a good job so far. The past three years have made me a much more confident player."
Coach Murphy agrees saying, "Matt is perhaps the toughest matchup at any position in the Ivy League. As a skilled 6 foot 5, 220 pound receiver, he can beat you so many ways. To his coaches and teammates, Matt is highly respected because he blocks, he plays in pain, and he's always ready to go in practice and on game day."
Luft says that he tries to incorporate into his game the consistency and toughness of his idol, former NFL wide receiver, Jerry Rice. In addition to those qualities, he believes his size is also an asset. "I'm fairly big for a wide receiver so that helps me absorb a lot of the hits. That's not to say there aren't hits that don't hurt or knock my breath out but I just get up and run the next play, even if I can't breathe," says Luft. "The best way for me to handle a hard hit is to get up and not let the hurt show."
Luft believes his size is also a valuable asset for breaking tackles to create yards "I don't really have a set formula to break a tackle. It's just instinctive for me," says Luft. "But I think part of my success comes from my size; I think it's harder to take me down. The other part is me not wanting to go down. I battle for the extra yards by wiggling out of the tackle."
Running routes is also instinctive for Luft, who admits that his freshman year he had some difficulty learning them but now says he has got it down. The ability to run crisp routes has given Luft a better ability to get by the opposing secondaries. "I don't have a set way to get by the cornerbacks. I just try to get them to break down and break their stance in some way. I like to take advantage of their mistakes," says Luft.
Luft also takes advantage of the holes that he sees around him to become open for his quarterback. He discloses his secret to getting himself open by saying, "I try to find a hole. There are some routes where I think to myself ‘I'm just going to stop the route right here' and either sit in the hole or keep going. I just feel it out," he says. "As an older player, I try to help the younger guys to implement that strategy."
However, Luft says the most frustrating part of getting himself open is having the quarterback miss an open receiver. He adds that he works with his quarterbacks during practice by studying the opponents' defense to make missing a pass a rarity come game time. "I try to find where the most opens are and where their weaknesses are. I try to split those areas up with the other receivers because that is normally where the quarterback will find one of us. If we, as individual receivers, see someone else open we tell the quarterback. We're always communicating during the games."
After three years playing for the Crimson, his knack for teamwork has allowed Luft to consider himself an elite player. "I try to be the best player I can be out there to help my team win." He believes what has helped him most get to that point is learning from his mistakes. "I'm pretty tough on myself when I drop a ball. I'm normally pretty angry at myself more than my teammates are. I'm determined not to drop the next ball thrown to me."
In addition to catching as many passes as he can, Luft explains that another component that gives him a tough exterior is the techniques he learns during ‘blocking' practice. "Coaches have us practice blocking a lot as receivers. It's not fun because the defensive backs don't like to be blocked. It's not like you're blocking a linebacker who are known for wanting the contact. The DB's try to run around us which makes it more difficult for us as receivers," he says.
Despite the fact that facing defensive backs is a tough job, the scariest part of being a receiver is running across the middle, according to Luft. "Going across the middle can be very scary because you're coming into the linebacker territory. Normally, I'll be running one way and a linebacker is coming from three different directions. It is impossible to see everything going on around me. This is generally when receivers are blindsided and have the wind knocked out of them. But a golden rule on the field is to just get back up and not show any weakness," says Luft.
However, at this point, regardless of any pain that he incurs on the field this season, Luft explains that it is more important for him to savor every moment of his time on the field since it will be his last season wearing a Crimson jersey. He says there is a running joke among the seniors that before each game they recognize its significance as being their last one playing a particular team.
Luft expects his last game to be bittersweet because he will be losing the teammates he considers brothers. "The guys on the team have been my favorite thing about playing football here. We're like a family. We spend most of our days together. It's fun. All of the guys on the team have made the experience worthwhile." In the meantime, Luft says he will concentrate on helping the team compete for the Ivy League Championship. As for his future plans, Luft says he has no definitive plans as of yet. If he takes to life after college as well as he does to passes in flight, then the sky is the limit.