The massive offensive lineman was immovable this season as he had 81 panckaes and didn't allow a sacks all season. He helped Aztec High go 13-1 and reach the state title game. Hegarty has committed to Notre Dame.Read More Below
College football recruiting often serves as a lesson in geography. Hundreds of scouts venture to Texas, Los Angeles and Western Pennsylvania, traditional high school football hot spots. Few make the trek to sparsely populated New Mexico.
At least, that's how it has been. This year, major-conference programs sent flocks of representatives to court Matt Hegarty, Aztec High's celebrated left tackle. The 6-foot-5, 270-pound senior has received scholarship offers spanning from USC to Harvard.
"It was kind of a surrealistic experience," he said. "I think it still is, realizing where I am today."
Given his football career, that makes sense. Hegarty was a tight end his freshman season and was forced to switch to the line after he broke both of his thumbs. Within a year, he was named first team all-state. Within three, he was invited to play in the U.S. Army All-American game.
"Unfortunate thing, but it worked out," Hegarty said.
His freakish athleticism allows him keep pace with most linebackers and defensive ends, and his textbook footwork has been crucial on passing downs. He didn't surrender a sack his entire senior year, recording 81 pancakes. He's widely regarded as one of the top offensive linemen in the nation.
Even with his success, the recruiting process started slowly. He was initially targeted by just New Mexico and Oregon, but drew more attention after a standout performance at the National Underclassmen Combine in Norman, Okla., where he earned offensive line MVP honors.
"It really started rolling after that," he said.
Hegarty committed to Notre Dame last April, selecting the Irish for the combination of academics and tradition. His presence should immediately upgrade Brian Kelly's porous line, as the Irish gave up 20 sacks this season. Despite the Irish's recent struggles (they've gone just 23-26 since 2007), Hegarty remains optimistic.
"I think that there was a lot of progression that went on this year, a lot of development in the team," he said. "I'm excited to see where that program will go."
Hegarty will spend the remainder of his time in New Mexico training, continuing to follow the Bigger, Faster, Stronger weightlifting program for which Aztec was recognized as the High School of the Year in 2009. He credits his training -- including weekly yoga sessions -- for spearheading the Tigers' 13-1 campaign in 2010.
Hegarty will also look to change the perception of offensive linemen. In a sport where stat-sheet stuffers make the headlines, Hegarty wants fans to pay more attention to the battle in the trenches.
"If a receiver messes up, he drops a ball and you try another play," he said. "If a lineman messes up, it could be a sack, it could be a fumble, it could be a hurt quarterback. It's a tough job."