Olathe East junior Nate Matlack is the sort of athlete whose ability is initially more apparent to his coaches than it is to himself.
For instance, one might think Matlack would spend this weekend working out or hanging out. Instead, he’ll be competing in the shotput and javelin at the Kansas Relays in Lawrence.
“My coach (Nick Ash) is awesome, and he’s who got me into it,” Matlack said with a laugh.
Turns out, the 6-foot-4 Matlack has a knack for it. He placed 8th at last year’s Class 6A state track meet, and would’ve gone to state in shotput if not for a self-described “choke” in the regional meet.
“I’m hoping I can make it to state in both and hopefully get pretty high, maybe fourth or fifth,” Matlack said. “It would be cool to win state, but I need to stay reasonable.”
Matlack’s first sport of choice when he arrived at Olathe East was basketball. That changed the second week of his sophomore football season, when an injury put him on the field at defensive end.
“It was pretty easy to tell just based on his length. I’ve been forutnate to be around several D-I kids over the years, and you can usually spot those kids their ninth and 10th-grade year. You notice the things colleges are attracted to,” Olathe East football coach Jesse Owen said.
Matlack thrived during that unexpected opportunity, and it was only then that he seriously considered big-time college football as an option.
“I did think about it, but not a ton. I just assumed I wasn’t big enough,” Matlack said.
He picked up his first D-I scholarship offer from K-State, and eventually picked up seven more, including Kansas, Syracuse, Illinois State and Air Force.
Matlack wasted little time, and recently announced his verbal commitment to play for the Wildcats.
“I’ve always been a K-State fan growing up, and I always wanted to play there, so I knew form the start they’d be at the top of my list,” Matlack said. “I’ve always wanted to play for K-State when I was younger. I’d always draw pictures of me playing K-State football and it kind of came true.”
Increased attention from college recruiters can affect high school athletes any number of ways. Some might start to believe the hype, and feel assured that they’ve already done everything they need to do to get where they’re going.
That wasn’t the case with Matlack. K-State was the first to offer, but he was motivated to collect as many options as possible.
“You could see his confidence level increase substantially, and he started to understand what he was capable of,” Owen said. “It made him more hungry to have another school reach out, and then another. It had a domino effect in a good way.”
Matlack has defined goals for the remainder of the track season, and his senior year isn’t that far away, either. A relatively young Hawks team finished 4-6 last year, and they’re obviously looking to improve.
“He knows he’s going to be leading, and that’s what I’m intrigued to see. Can he make the guys around him better and enhance their performance?” Owen said. “As his head coach, that’s what I want to see from him and I know he hopes that for himself too.”
Matlack envisions a little (or a lot) of redemption,” and a chance to play Thanksgiving weekend.
“Obviously winning a state championship would be awesome, which I think we have a legit chance this year. We’ve got more experience. I think the season can pan out pretty well. We were so close to beating Shawnee Mission East in the regionals, and that’s pushed us. We’ve talked about going on the revenge tour, beating everyone we’ve lost to.”
The tour will be kicking off in early September.