Friday, March 7, 2014

Where Are They Now? Matt Shelton

Some of us land at Notre Dame because it has been our lifelong dream to attend (or play football at) Our Lady’s University. Some of us find our path drawn towards Notre Dame because of a significant influence in our life. And some of us find ourselves signing a letter of intent with Notre Dame because we simply trust in all that it has to offer. That third option is exactly how wide receiver Matt Shelton found himself playing football for the Fighting Irish. During his tenure at ND, Matt totaled 47 receptions for 890 yards and seven touchdowns, all while averaging 18.9 yards per catch. In 2005, Matt graduated with a degree in Marketing from the Mendoza College of Business. Now a successful team leader in the sales department of ‘The Bouq’s,’ Matt’s journey has been quite a colorful one. Take a walk with me and discover the journey of former ND wide receiver, Matt Shelton.

Q: Growing up in Collierville, TN how did you end up playing football at Notre Dame?

A: “Me ending up at Notre Dame had a lot to do with luck. One of the Notre Dame recruiters was in Memphis talking to high school coaches in the area -- ND has a great “farm system” in Memphis if you will. One of my high school coaches told the ND recruiter (along with other Division I recruiters) that he needed to come to Collierville to see me in person. As a result of my coach going to bat for me, recruiters from several schools came to Collierville to see me play. I was being recruited by Ohio State, Vanderbilt, Arkansas, Memphis, Ole Miss, and of course, Notre Dame. I really hit it off with the recruiter from Notre Dame and so that moved it to the top of my list.”

“How many schools did I take official visits to? Only one. Notre Dame. When it came time for me to start taking my official visits the unthinkable happened: during the fifth game of my senior year I tore my ACL. Pretty much every school who was recruiting me tucked its tail and ran. A few kindly called and wished me well, but most ran. After an ACL, nobody ever knows if a kid is really going to ever recover. What attracted these colleges to me was my speed, and there was no telling whether or not that would ever come back. And then I received the call from Bob Davie letting me know that Notre Dame’s offer was still on the table. Coach Davie said to me, ‘I don’t care if you ever step on the field again or not. You will graduate with a four-year degree from Notre Dame.’ That spoke volumes to me that the University was willing to stand behind its offer and support Coach Davie’s actions. After that phone call there really was no question in my mind, I was going to Notre Dame.”

Q: What is your best Notre Dame football memory?

A: The following play (play #5 in the top 10) against Michigan State may be one of the bigger plays that Matt Shelton is known for, but one of his favorite Notre Dame football memories is that classic moment ‘when the cleats hit the cushion.’

“I guess I have two ND football memories that are very memorable to me. The first of which is running out of the tunnel and onto the field for the very first time. It was simply breathtaking. After the preseason grind of two-a-days, being away from home for the first time, getting used to being a student and the whole college experience; it’s definitely an unforgettable moment, an unforgettable feeling. Right about at that point, the doubts start crossing your mind as to whether or not you can actually play football on such a big stage as Notre Dame Stadium. And then you run out of the tunnel, onto the field to 80,000 screaming fans. You are overcome with goose bumps and everything melts away. I still get goose bumps when the team runs out of the tunnel.

"My next favorite ND football moment is from the Bowl. I tore my ACL at practice on Christmas day just prior to the Bowl game. I needed one catch for better than negative seven yards to break the record at Notre Dame for most yards per catch during a season. The trainers wrapped up my leg and my coaches put me into the game so that I could get my one catch and I broke the record even with my torn ACL. I will never forget that moment."

"I ran off the field and could not even feel my arm because the hit on that catch was so crushing."

"My favorite off-the-field memory has to be time spent with the guys in the locker room. The incredible bonds that you make with the guys in the locker room prior to, during, and after games…they stay with you forever. I miss going out and playing football, but I really miss the camaraderie of the team. Hanging out, getting to know each other, goofing off, and having fun -- that is what I miss the most."

Q: Best road trip game?

[Photo from ND Club Memphis,
A: “Our trip to play the University of Tennessee was my favorite road trip game. Going home (even though Knoxville is six hours away from where I grew up), playing in that stadium which holds 100,000 screaming fans. It was so loud, the lights were so bright, and it was just such a great experience playing in my home state. The Tennessee fans treated the players and the Irish fans with great hospitality. Playing on the road is awesome, but playing on the road in your home state is something that is really hard to describe. You run out of the tunnel and they are booing you and you learn to really focus yourself and feed off of that energy.”

Q: What was it like playing for Tyrone Willingham? Charlie Weis? Differences? Pros? Cons?

A: “Speaking of what it was like to play for Coach Willingham and Coach Weis, I have to mention that I am writing a book myself. I am at about 55,000 words right now. My book details my experiences of playing for Coach Davie,  Coach O’Leary, Coach Willingham, Coach Baer, and Coach Weis. How many people can say that they played under five different coaches at Notre Dame?”

“When I played under Coach Willingham I still had a lot to learn. I still had a lot of work that I needed to put in, in order to become a better football player.”

“By the time Coach Weis got to ND, I was a better player and already had been given a chance to prove myself. I was already groomed, had proven myself on the football field, and was recovering from ACL surgery and a staph infection that almost killed me. Coach Weis was much more lenient with me than he was with most of the other players. He really treated me like a son.”

Q: What was it like being a student-athlete at Notre Dame?

A: “I played football and ran track in two of my seasons at Notre Dame. Running track was great for me because it was great speed training and additional conditioning for football.”

“Adding track to the fold didn’t really change my workload much as a student-athlete at ND. I was still going to be training during the offseason so it might as well have been within a second sport. Offseason training for football is just as important as preparation during the regular season. If you don’t train hard enough during the offseason then you are not ready for the grueling schedule that you have to face during the regular season. Track was very run-heavy so I didn’t work out as much with the football team as I otherwise would have. It really wasn’t difficult to play those two particular sports at ND -- in fact; it was very beneficial to me and the other football players who were running track with me.”

“One of the most difficult transitions of my life was the transition from high school to college. I didn’t understand the concept of time management as well as I thought I did. Notre Dame made us go to study hall four times a week and without that and the rest of the academic support which the University gave us -- freshman year of studies, making us go to class, study hall, meeting with our academic advisor -- I probably would have failed out of school. Study hall itself was crucial to my success. If I had gone back to my room instead of study hall, and had been given the choice between studying and going to bed at night, I would have definitely gone to bed. Study hall forced us to get our work done and use our time wisely.”

Q: How do you remember your NFL draft?

A:“I thought I was going to be drafted in the late rounds of the draft or at least by the last round. The Indianapolis Colts called to say that they would have drafted me if they would have had a pick in the last round (which they did not). I wonder how many other guys they said that to. In the situation I was in, though, it’s not a bad thing to be undrafted. Suddenly the tables are turned and if you have several teams looking at you, you get to decide. The Colts were offering me more money but I knew 98% of the offense currently playing with the Patriots and so I decided to sign with New England.”

Q: Did you get to start any games? What was your NFL experience like?

A:“Getting my shot in the NFL was an amazing experience. Coming from a school like Notre Dame with the level of guys whom I played with ON the team, and who we played AGAINST on a weekly basis, it wasn’t as big of a jump from college to the NFL as it had been from high school to college. Football in college was a full-time job and you get to the NFL and it’s just a full-time job again. The difference is that you’re working 60 hours per week in the NFL instead of 40 hours per week in college.”

“By the time I got to the NFL I had already gone through four knee surgeries, a back injury (I had to wear a back brace for months to allow my stress fracture to heal), and a staph infection. I pretty much got hurt right away after arriving in New England and was put on injured reserve. I was a Wes Welker-type of player and was drafted by New England the year before Welker got there. I’m not saying that I would have been the next Wes Welker, but I definitely had an amazing opportunity in front of me had I not gotten hurt. I was just physically worn out by the time I got to the NFL.”

Q: Where did life take you after football?

Stay tuned for more in the
“Where are they now?”
A:“You grow up spending your whole youth and young adulthood wanting to play football and then when it’s taken away from you, you are kind of lost. That’s when the transition and transformation begins.”

“My first job post football was doing day trading. I had the opportunity to work for a small company where I learned how to work the day trading industry. It was during the tail end of the market crash and I was given five million dollars to ‘play’ with. Seeing that it was at the tail end of the market crash we did quite well and increased our holdings by 20-25% as we were able to buy in at a low price. Even though I was successful at day trading I quickly learned that playing with numbers was not for me.”

“So then I decided to try my hand at sales -- I used the Notre Dame network to get a sales job. I called a friend who knew of a company that was hiring and I moved back to South Bend and took a job in Medical Device Sales for Arthrex. I did sales for two years and really loved it, but didn’t love the weather in South Bend so much. After two years with Arthrex I was presented with an opportunity to move to California and do pharmaceutical sales for Ocusoft and I jumped at the chance to head west and enjoy some warm weather.”

The 'Killer Bouq'
“After a couple of years at Ocusoft I used the Notre Dame network once again and reached out to a gentleman who worked for Disney who introduced me to the owner of the company ‘The Bouq’s.’ We had lunch and a couple of conversations and he brought me onboard this year.”

“I am the head of the sales team here at The Bouq’s. When I came on it was pretty much me and now we have 10 sales reps in the department whom I manage. In addition to managing the sales team I call on florists, venues for weddings, event planners, hotels, spas, and gift programs.”

By the way, our goal isn't to deliver good flowers. How about amazing flowers? Fresher flowers. Brighter. Affordable. Easy to order. Longer-lasting. Flowers from farms that treat the environment and their workers with care and respect? Yep, sounds good to us too.

“What The Bouq’s offers is such a smart thing. Why would you go through all of these middle men when you can ship directly from the farm and get the freshest flower possible, flowers that will last 10 to 14 days. Right now is one of the busiest time of year for us (Matt was busy preparing for Valentine’s Day when we spoke). Right now my priority is getting the word out there that we also do weddings. It’s a do-it-yourself type of service. Brides can buy from us wholesale and design their floral arrangements themselves  and in the process save up to 50%.”

“I gave a price quote to a bride today and she responded, ‘Wow, that’s amazing. What a huge discount.’”

A: How has the Notre Dame family and degree been an asset post-football with what you are working on now?

A:“The Notre Dame network made my transition from football to the business world 100% easier. Being able to lean on the network, whether you are transitioning from football to the business world or from sales to engineering, it’s the same: to have a network that is in every city in the country is absolutely phenomenal.”

Q: So I hear you are working on a book …

A:“When I’m not busy giving people the freshest flowers that money can buy, I am working on finishing my book. I am trying to strike the right balance of good with juicy. I don’t want to put Notre Dame in a bad light, but there are some conversations that should be had, should be known, but it’s all about how you tell them. At the end of the day, though, I want to keep Notre Dame in a positive light. The University did so much for me.”

“When I was recovering from ACL surgery during my senior year at Notre Dame I got a staph infection. I didn’t realize truly how bad off I was. I lost 25 pounds in a week and a half, was barely eating a bite of food a day, and was running a fever of 105 degrees. When I finally was taken to the emergency room one of the doctors almost let me go home. Instead they decided to put a pick in my arm that went straight to my heart and I got Vancomycin twice a day.”

“While I was being treated for the staph infection I started putting down all of my thoughts, documenting my experiences from high school through my current point at Notre Dame. From them on I continued to document my story through the rest of college and the NFL, recording the ups and downs, the injuries, and everything that I experienced along my journey.”

“Fortunately for me the night I went to the emergency room Dr. Michael (Mike) Eyergler was on call. He was the one who realized how sick I really was and recognized the urgency to save the graft in my knee. He had me taken into surgery and spent two hours flushing out my knee, which is what ended up saving my ACL repairs, and most likely my life.”

“My plan for finishing my book includes interviewing some other players and adding their thoughts to mine. They may either contrast what I’m saying or agree with it, but I feel it’s important to add their thoughts to what I already have documented.”

Q: What advice would you give current student athletes?

A:”First, stick with it. You see a lot of student-athletes who commit to a team and then decommit even before signing day even arrives. If you have a chance to play a sport at Notre Dame, do it. It’s a LIFE decision, not a COLLEGE decision.”

“Second, stay there. Just because the first year is tough, don’t leave. Fight through it, own your decisions, and it will be the best decision you will ever make.”

“Third, soak in every moment you have during your time in college. When it’s gone, it’s gone, and it will never be the same again. You will always have memories that other people don’t -- make sure to cherish those memories.”

I’d like to give a big thank you to Matt for stopping by the blog. It was an absolute pleasure to walk through his journey with him. Stay tuned for many more great stories in the “Where are they now?” series! If you enjoy this series, you can also read more stories in my new book, “Echoes From the End Zone: The Men We Became”available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes & Nobel and through my website