By Brooke Retkowski, The Whetstone
Wesley College senior and Atlanta Falcons lineman Matt Gono said being in the NFL has been hard.
“Having to live by myself, balance learning a lot of new information, rookie duties, and getting a hard time from the older players is tough,” he said.
Some of those rookie duties include waking up early to write the depth chart, order and pick up breakfast, tell jokes at the offensive line meetings, and buy the guys video games.
After his rookie season in the NFL playing for the Atlanta Falcons, Matt Gono is back on campus finishing his degree in Criminal Justice before returning to the field after graduation in May.
“Being back on campus is nice,” he said. “It’s not as much of an intense environment.”
Gono is one of three athletes from Wesley’s football team who has gotten a chance to play in the NFL.
It is almost unheard of for Division 3 football players to continue their careers at the professional level. Joe Callahan, a quarterback and recent graduate, is with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, while Bryan Robinson, a 2008 graduate, was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals a decade ago but also played most recently in the Arena Football League for the Soul in Philadelphia.
“Being selected to play in the NFL felt great, but I understood I was about to experience a lot of hardships,” Gono said.
Chip Knapp, football’s head coach, said it is not a primary focus of the coaches to get players ready to play professionally.
“It is very uncommon for a player from a Division 3 program to play in the NFL or any other professional football,” he said. “We try to coach them up the best we can and give them all of the resources to make them the best player they can be. Sometimes you have a player that is uncommon and very talented and they will get that chance.”
Elizabeth Marchioni, professor of Law and Justice, said she didn’t think Gono would come back to finish his degree.
“At the end of the fall semester, I received an email from the Atlanta Falcons Player Affairs Coordinator, Brynlee Forik, about Matt taking classes in the spring,” she said. “The Falcons and the NFL strongly encourage players to complete their degrees and further their education.”
Marchioni said what Gono did next impressed both her and Forik.
“I explained to her that Matt only needed 15 credits to graduate, and she explained to me that players usually take one or two classes a semester to finish their education over time,” she said. “She told me it is rare for a player to take this type of course load and speaks volumes as to who he is as an individual.”
Marchioni said Gono has a great work ethic.
“Matt is willing to take a full semester of credits even though it means flying back and forth between Delaware and Georgia to fulfill both his degree requirements and football responsibilities,” she said.
Gono played right tackle for Wesley for three years before switching to left tackle his senior year.
“In the NFL, they started me off at right tackle,” he said. “But now I am practicing at any position on the offensive line. That way I am able to play any position in case someone gets hurt, I have to be able to replace them.”
Alum Jamar Baynard was teammates with Gono for three years.
“He is a very humble and hardworking player,” he said. “He was someone who did anything to help the team.”
Craig Pettit, Wolverine graduate assistant coach, played alongside Gono in 2015.
“He is a very disciplined player,” he said. “Now coaching him, you get to see things from a different perspective. Now I see him taking in what the coaches have to say and executing it on the field.”
Knapp said Gono was the perfect player.
“He did everything right,” he said. “He attended class, he never missed any team function, and worked as hard as he possibly could. He was a guy we could count on.”
Marchioni said Gono is an excellent student.
“He is always polite and respectful to me and the others in the classroom,” she said.
Senior Austin Mangus said he likes that Gono is back.
“I believe that every student-athlete should get their degree from their institution,” he said. “It’s something good to fall back on.”
Pettit said he is excited to see Gono back on campus as well.
“It is fantastic to see him back finishing his degree,” he said. “Education is important.”
Mangus, also a part-time Assistant Admissions Counselor at Wesley, said student-athletes like Gono are an asset to the college.
“Having players in the NFL makes Wesley look great for prospective students,” he said. “When I give tours, and tell them that we have two players in the NFL, their eyes light up. It captures their attention.”
Baynard said coming from a program that has players in the NFL is a great feeling.
“It shows great players come from our program,” he said. “It also shows Wesley is not just your ordinary Division 3 football program.”