You know that kid that comes into your program without much to offer aside from being friendly and running pretty hard? No throws, not much field sense, unsure of what ultimate even is?
In the fall of 2006, that was the University of Virginia Night Train’s Matt King.
Now, you know the guy that generates his team’s offense with his throws, leads it with his work ethic, and is generally considered one of the top players in his region? The kind that UNC-Wilmington coach and all-time great Tully Beatty describes as “an old school type of player that I’d have enjoyed playing with?”
In 2006, Matt King made the Virginia roster after the team finished dead last at Regionals the previous spring. In a freshman class that included athletic standout Tyler Conger as well as three players that stood 6’3″ or above, Matt made the team for two reasons: he never missed practice and he hustled.
Beyond that, though, his game had a serious hole. Naturally left-handed, Matt could only throw a righty backhand. Exacerbating the problem, Matt came back in 2007, his sophomore year, equipped with a forehand– with his left hand. As Matt would say, he was beat.
Unable to put open throws to the right side of the field, Matt’s game was significantly hindered, and when it was time to decide on the A team roster, the captains considered cutting him even though he was a returner. Again, though, Matt’s value as a teammate (along with another poor showing from Night Train in the season prior) was his saving grace, and he kept his spot.
That year, Matt’s contribution to the team was felt across the board. As committed as ever, he set out to maximize his impact as a speedy and tenacious defender while compensating for his lack of throws as much as possible. Also, as he learned more about the game, his exuberant personality made him an invaluable sideline presence, and he was voted the team’s 8th Man of the Year at Night Train’s end of the year banquet.
In the summer following Night Train’s 7th-place finish at 2008 Regionals, Matt set out to truly fix his game rather than simply compensate for its flaws. He brought his team-first mentality to Richmond’s Floodwall, and he spent most of his free time trying to solve his throwing problem.
The outcome was one that any experienced ultimate player would envy: after the summer, Matt came back with a left-handed backhand to go with his flick, making him a complete lefty. While a junior at this point, it was better late than never, and with both legitimate throws, Matt grew as a player as Night Train charged to its first Nationals appearance in 2009.
That summer, Matt would captain a Floodwall team that was made up of virtually all college underclassmen. On top of playing every point, where he improved his defense, field sense, and most importantly, his throws, Matt transitioned from being a fiery teammate to a fierce leader; even when matched up against much more experienced and skills competition, Matt showed an incredible desire to win with every layout D and breakmark huck that he threw against Truck Stop and Ring of Fire.
Today, it is hard to remember Matt as the player he once was. A co-captain for Night Train in 2010 (along with Conger), Matt was one of the team’s most reliable throwers and defenders, and he earned Second Team All-Region honors at the end of the year. This year, his fifth and final, Matt’s presence has already been felt, as he played one of the better games of his career in Virginia’s win against Colorado at Warm Up and continues to push his teammates both on and off the field.
At this point, I should disclose that I have been playing with Matt for five years and that he is among my best friends. Regardless, his is a story worth telling, as it should serve as inspiration and motivation for anyone passionate enough to play a sport regardless of current limitations.