SEMO football coach Tom Matukewicz simply following the steps laid for him by others

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Southeast Missouri State football program will close out its regular season Saturday and a victory would be memorable in terms of the history of this program.

The No. 13-ranked Redhawks (8-3, 6-1 Ohio Valley Conference) will host Murray State (4-7, 2-5) at Houck Stadium at 1 p.m. and a win will mark just the third time as an NCAA Division I program that Southeast has won nine games and only the second time it has earned any part of an OVC championship (the Redhawks will share the title with Austin Peay if the Governors win Saturday).

A legacy has been left by this team. An “impact,” if you will.

“… It’s amazing the impact these seniors have had on our program," sixth-year Southeast coach Tom Matukewicz said of the Redhawk veterans following a recent win over Eastern Kentucky.

The victories have been fantastic but that is only part of the reason – and not the most significant one – why Matukewicz loves his job.

Making an “impact”

That recent victory over Eastern Kentucky was dubbed the “Impact Game” by the Southeast football program and it had nothing to do with tackling or blocking.

Those within the Redhawk program wanted to recognize the people in their lives who had made a positive impact on their journeys.

“God was leading me to honor my life and my history,” Matukewicz said of coming up with the concept.

The Redhawk players and coaches each wrote a “thank you” letter to a particular person in their lives, who had helped guide them when they needed it, and Matukewicz chose legendary Kansas high school football coach Tom Michael.

Michael was one of 10 people honored during the game for their “impact” on someone’s life.

“A lost kid”

Matukewicz grew up in a non-athletic family and openly admits to being a challenge to handle.

“My family was not a sports family,” Matukewicz said. “They were just a hard-working family.”

Matukewicz credits his mother for teaching him “unconditional love” and his father for his “work ethic,” but he needed guidance during his teenage years that his mother couldn’t provide on her own, as she raised him in a single-parent household.

“I was just kind of a lost kid,” Matukewicz said. “I got in a lot of trouble. I fought a lot. I hated school because I wasn’t any good at it. Football was really the only thing that I liked.”

As Matukewicz struggled down the path of life, as many teens do, his defensive coordinator, coach Michael, saw a need to mentor him in ways far more important than hitting the right gap on a play.

A new home

Matukewicz moved in with the Michael family for the final two years of his high school career and without that decision, by all parties involved, Matukewicz wouldn’t be anywhere near Houck Stadium on Saturday.

“My mom was happy,” Matukewicz said of the move. “She was glad. I needed a coach.

“She had a low enough ego that she cared more about what was best for me than what people were going to say. And obviously, people said what they were going to say.”

Michael showed Matukewicz a life that he had never envisioned and it had nothing to do with money.

Michael worked nights at a Hallmark Cards factory and coached during the day.

That work ethic resonated with Matukewicz but not as much as Michael’s daily life.

“Whatever he said,” Matukewicz recalled, “buddy, I did. I wanted what he had.”

A new life

What Michael had, according to Matukewicz, “was a beautiful family,” which included a son, Garrett, whom Matukewicz was close to on his football team.

“He seemed so happy,” Matukewicz said of coach Michael. “I wanted what he had.”

But there was more to coach Michael than just a secure life and career and even a drifting teen could recognize it.

“Ultimately,” Matukewicz said, “what he had was a relationship with Jesus. He never even talked about it with me, I just witnessed it.”

Michael showed belief in Matukewicz, not just because he was one of the top high school football players in the state, but because he knew Matukewicz had potential off the field, as well.

“The biggest thing that I appreciate (coach Michael and his family) is he gave me the confidence to go to school,” Matukewicz said. “Because I didn’t know if I could do it.”

Following the required path

Matukewicz dreamed of being a football coach before he even stepped foot on the Silver Lake (Kan.) High School grass.

“I used to practice giving halftime speeches when I was in the eighth grade,” Matukewicz told his current players during a gathering last summer.

However, what he wasn’t enamored with was the path to becoming a college football coach.

“I wanted to be a college football coach,” Matukewicz said, “but that degree doesn’t exist.”

Matukewicz attended Butler County Community College “because I didn’t have any grades” before finishing his bachelor’s (Fort Hays State) and Master’s degrees (Pittsburg State).

“If you want this,” Matukewicz said of coaching, “this is the path.”

The next generation

That lesson in perseverance, as well as being a positive influence on those around you, is what Matukewicz learned from Silver Lake head coach, CJ Hamilton, as well as Michael.

That message is now being passed on to the next generation of athletes.

“I want to do many things with my life,” Southeast senior linebacker Zach Hall and Louisville, Ky. native said earlier this season. “Giving back to that community (of Louisville) is one of them.”

Hall said several people have helped him on his path but he specifically cited Matukewicz as having as big of an “impact” as anyone.

“Coach Tuke is the one who made me realize that this is more than just football,” Hall said. “He does a great job of teaching us life lessons, building our character and being more than just good football players.

“He would rather us be those kinds of people than those kinds of players.”

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