'Walking on' with the Owls
COURTESY TEMPLE UNIVERSITY Temple's Matt Falcone (15) wraps up a Kent State player on a punt return during a regular season game.
A little over a year ago, Matt Falcone was a Palmerton High School senior sitting on his couch and watching college bowl games.
Little did he know, that he would be playing in one of those games this year.
Falcone, a Temple University freshman, played against UCLA in the Eagle Bank Bowl on Dec. 29.
"Going from watching all of the bowl games last year to playing in one is indescribable," Falcone said.
The fact that Falcone made the Temple varsity football team as a true freshman is a significant accomplishment. The manner in which he did it is even more impressive.
Over the course of the calendar year, Falcone has gone from high school sports standout to succeeding on the Division I College Level and did it through hard work and determination.
After visiting Temple on his unofficial visit last February, he made up his mind that it was where he wanted to go to school. All that was left for the former defensive back/quarterback was the challenge of getting on the team as a walk-on.
"I just got a really good vibe when I went on my unofficial visit," Falcone said. "Everything they were doing, they were doing for the right reasons and it was a program on the rise and what they were selling, I was buying."
Making a Division I sports program is difficult for a walk-on, so he knew he had his work cut out for him.
"The following week after my visit, I called my recruiting coach (Coach Jared Backus), and let him know that I thought I was going to give it a try and see how things went," Falcone recalls. "The rest of the Spring, I worked out on my own."
At first, things were difficult.
"At the end of June, I enrolled in summer classes and we did workouts as a team for all of July and August," Falcone said. "I was basically last on all the depth chart for everything."
Even after showing the dedication over the course of the two months, Falcone, the 2009 TIMES NEWS Football Player of the Year, wasn't sure he would be part of the team when it got together for official practices in August.
"I wasn't invited to training camp until the night or two nights before it began and I already had my bags packed (to head home)," he said. "Someone had quit, so I got lucky and snuck in there. If I wouldn't have gone to those camps in the summer, I wouldn't have been invited to camp and probably would have redshirted this past year."
As pre-season camp ended and the regular season, the challenges kept coming up. But by the team's second game of the season, he saw his first live action. By the third game, he was a special teams starter and by season's end, he had played in 12 of the team's 13 games.
Looking back on the way things worked out for him individually, Falcone brimmed with pride as he recalled the trek through the hard work.
"The first week of camp was rough, but during the second week, I asked Coach (Al) Golden if I could get a shot on special teams," he said. "He put me on second team punt return."
That is where Falcone eventually saw his first game action - in a loss at Penn State during the second week of the season.
The next week, Falcone was named the Owls' scout team defensive player of the week during their preparation for Buffalo. He also saw more action on the punt return team in the game against the Bulls.
In week four against Eastern Michigan, Falcone was placed on the punt and kickoff teams, as well as the punt return team.
"The Buffalo game was where I started to gain confidence and realize that the hard work was paying off," Falcone said. "Because the summer was really difficult for me in that I didn't know if things were going to pan out."
As the season panned out, things really started to pick up for the Owls. They set a school record with a nine-game winning streak, were within one victory of a berth in the MAC title game, and earned the school's first bowl invitation in 30 years.
The Owls dropped a heartbreaker to UCLA in the Eagle Bank Bowl as the Bruins scored 23 unanswered points and rallied in the fourth quarter to pull out the victory.
"The way the game started, things looked promising, considering it was a Pac-10 team, it was really nice to jump out on them early," said Falcone. "But the fourth quarter was not what we had hoped for or planned on, being that we pride ourselves on being a fourth quarter team. It was still something to be cherished and I'll remember it forever."
Falcone had time after the season ended to reflect on the events thus far in his young career as an Owl.
"That Penn State game was great because I never imagined to be playing in Beaver Stadium," he said. "I expected the hard work to pay off, but I never expected it to go this far. I guess I just want to give the upperclassmen some 'props' for sort of guiding me along, along with the other freshmen because they made the transition easy and enjoyable."
As memorable as the 2009 campaign was, Falcone is looking for bigger and better things this season.
The Owls are already working toward improving, having recently started off-season conditioning.
"I hope to start on all four special teams," Falcone said. "To possibly see some action at linebacker would be amazing. As a team, an undefeated season would be nice and to make it to a bowl game and be victorious would be great."
With plenty of obstacles and challenges lying ahead of the young scholar-athlete, look for Falcone to approach them with the same amount of integrity, pride and rigorous optimism that he has always employed. This past season, he may have compiled four tackles on the field, but he definitely took down many other opponents to earn his success.