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Year in Review: Dedication off the field helped Oakcrest’s Matt Hess become a beast on it

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By DAVE O’SULLIVAN Publisher Matt Hess didn’t strike fear into anybody when he started as a freshman at Oakcrest High School four years ago. He was tall, but weighed more than 300 pounds. During the spring lacrosse season his sophomore year, coach Brett Hoffecker got on his case a little bit and told him he needed to have a better nutritional plan and also needed to step up the intensity in his workouts if he ever wanted to do anything noteworthy during his time as a Falcon. Hess took that to heart, and set about transforming not only his body, but his high school athletic career. In the span of less than three years, Hess went from being a pudgy 15-year-old to an absolute beast at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds. He went from eating honey buns before Saturday morning lacrosse practice to becoming one of Oakcrest’s all-time best athletes and being recruited to play both football and lacrosse at Wesley College in Dover, Del. Oh, and he also just happens to be a New Jersey Scholar Athlete award winner. In typical Matt Hess fashion, he didn’t have all that much to say about his transformation and his athletic and academic achievements. His coaches, however, don’t have any trouble talking about what a tremendous player Hess was to have on their respective teams, and likely will point to him for years to come as an example of the type of young man their players should aspire to become. “He was a big boy,” Hoffecker said of the first time he saw Hess, during Hess’ sophomore year when Hoffecker took over as head coach of the lacrosse program. “He was into football, and he went out for lacrosse to help get in shape for football, and over the last three years he’s probably dropped about 75 pounds. Ever since I gave him some heat about what he was eating, he really took it to heart. Some kids would get embarrassed, but he took it the right way. Ever since then he started working out, doing marathons, eating right. You see him now and he’s ripped. And it was all him. He really put in the time to athletics, and that’s the biggest thing with him. He put in the time on and off the field. It was impressive. Recently graduated Matt Hess set a single-season record for goals in lacrosse with more than 50, and finished his career with more than 100. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O'Sullivan) Recently graduated Matt Hess set a single-season record for goals in lacrosse with more than 50, and finished his career with more than 100. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O’Sullivan) “Being a captain on lacrosse and football, it shows you what kind of talent he was, not only as a player, but also as a leader. He will be missed.” To say Hess will be missed might be understating the obvious a little bit. As an offensive lineman on the football team, he was a wrecking ball. He helped guide the Falcons to one of their best offensive seasons in years last fall, also helping the team go from 2-8 his junior year to 6-4 with a berth in the state playoffs during his senior year. “I was always a pretty good athlete,” Hess said. “Sophomore year, I decided I wasn’t doing as much as I could be doing. I realized I had to make my body better. I was over 300 pounds, but now I’m 235. It was mostly just me not liking what I saw in the mirror.” Hess said by the time his senior year came around, he was ready to become an impact player in both sports. “I was completely ready. It was my senior year, I was excited. All I wanted to do was lead the teams to championships. That was my goal,” Hess said. Although he didn’t accomplish that goal in football, he did in lacrosse. He scored a school-record 51 goals and helped the Falcons to the first share of a Cape-Atlantic League title in school history. In all, he set school marks for goals in a game, in a season, and in a career — finishing with more than 100. He also had 10 assists as a senior, third-most on the team, and led the squad with 72 ground balls. “He was always in the right spot at the right time. And that shows not only his athletic ability, but also his IQ. And that’s hard to teach,” Hoffecker said. Hoffecker said Hess was so adept with his shot — and so perceptive about the game — that he knew exactly when to miss a shot, on purpose. “We had that motion offense, and whether we needed a few goals or were up and needed to possess the ball, he was always in the right spot at the right time. He knew when to shoot it and when to hold off and kill the time,” Hoffecker said. “There were times when he would shoot and miss on purpose. I call that a possession shot. If we weren’t clicking, or if one of our middies was winded and we needed to get him off the field, we would take what was called a possession shot. People would ask why he was missing those shots, but he would miss on purpose so we could re-set the offense. That gives you an extra five or 10 seconds to re-set the offense, and sometimes it’s hard to re-set the offense when you are going live. That’s what was smart about him. Not many players can do that. Hess weighed more than 300 pounds when he began his high school athletic career, but once he got serious about his conditioning, he trimmed down to 235. His dedication in the weight room helped him land offers to play both football and lacrosse at Wesley College in Delaware. Hess weighed more than 300 pounds when he began his high school athletic career, but once he got serious about his conditioning, he trimmed down to 235. His dedication in the weight room helped him land offers to play both football and lacrosse at Wesley College in Delaware. “He was hard to stop, because he’s a big boy, and he wanted to score. A lot of people are timid to go in and lose the ball, but he was just a beast. The guys knew if we needed to score, to get the ball to him and he would muscle his way in. That’s his power that he built over the years, and that was hard to stop.” Hoffecker admitted, however, that Hess’ success didn’t come naturally. He was the type of player who had to work hard at his craft to become one of the top players in the league. And, to Hess’ credit, he put in the time — and then some. “A lot of people have that talent where they can just come to practice or a game and there it is, but he had to put in the time, and he did. He was willing to, and it paid off,” Hoffecker said. “It was impressive, it honestly was. It’s amazing as a coach when you are able to have that kind of impact on a kid, not only in their sport, but their overall health. He ended up with a phenomenal year.” “I thought I was capable of having that kind of career,” Hess said. “I was always striving to get better. It was a great group of guys. It felt good to make ourselves known and hopefully they can continue to do that.” “For a big kid, he was very athletic. He could move, and he was almost as fast as some of the skill guys. And he was smart. Not only did he understand his job, he understood the job of the guy next to him, where the plays were designed to go, and how to adjust to what the defense was doing to try to stop us,” said football coach Chuck Smith. “You don’t see that kind of athleticism among high school offensive linemen. Matt really was an athlete who played offensive line. He probably could have been a tight end or a great fullback, but we needed him on the offensive line.” Matt was such an athletic player that even at nearly 250 pounds during the football season, he was the team’s placekicker. All he did was finish as the second-best kicker in school history. “It’s hard to imagine your 245-pound lineman as your kicker, but he’s No. 2 all-time in school history as a kicker,” Smith said. What Smith and Hoffecker both said was that as good an athlete as Hess was, he’s an even better person and role model. He’s incredibly humble as well. After Oackrest beat Absegami in lacrosse to earn a share of the league title, it took Hess a good 45 minutes to allow his game face to break into a smile. That was also the game in which Hess reached 100 career goals. “He’s very determined and serious. He doesn’t goof around. He’s not cocky. He’s what any coach wants in their program. Even when he does score — when he scored his 100th goal — he didn’t do anything. Didn’t even celebrate,” Hoffecker said. “He’s just a really good kid with a tremendous future ahead of him,” Smith said. “You wouldn’t even know he was in the weight room if you didn’t see him in there. He’s real quiet, just goes about his routine. He’s just a good, quality person. His parents did a good job raising him. “The Hesses are a legacy in Mays Landing. His grandfather has an elementary school named after him. They are entrenched in that community, and have been for a very long time.” Hoffecker said Hess’ biggest accomplishment — bigger than setting scoring records for the lacrosse team or leading the football team back to the playoffs — was being named the school’s representative as a scholar athlete. “He got the NJSIAA Scholar Athlete award, and that’s probably the best award any athlete can earn. Each school picks one athlete that is their scholar athlete. Whoever makes that decision, Matt was their choice. That is a huge, huge accomplishment. He’s a varsity scholar, National Honor Society, CAL second team. And he’s going to produce more. He’s not going to stop,” Hoffecker said. “He’ll definitely be up there (on the Oakcrest wall of fame), without a doubt. He broke a bunch of school records — most goals in a game, most goals in a season, most goals in a career. And those records are going to stand for a while.” Smith said he couldn’t argue with that assessment of Hess’ legacy. “I think down the road you will definitely see him nominated for the school’s wall of fame.” Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays [adsense]

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