“I knew Matt had what it was going to take to become a great football player,” said Governor's Coach Jim O'Leary P'17, '20, '21 about Matt Peart '15, who was recently drafted to the New York Giants as a third-round pick, ninety-ninth overall. “I once told him, if you continue to do all of these things, you will play in the NFL,” added O'Leary, who has stayed in touch with Peart and remains a close friend and mentor.
Coach O'Leary is no fortune teller, but his years of experience as an athlete and as a coach developing young players gives him remarkable insight on what it takes to succeed. Though, when O’Leary first met Peart, he admits that he had no idea of this young man’s potential, never mind his destiny to become an NFL player. “Matt came to Govs as a tall, slender, smart young man from the Bronx who really loved to play basketball. He wasn’t on our football radar at all,” said O’Leary. But as they do every year, O'Leary and fellow football coach Rod McLain P'07, '09 asked around campus to see if anyone was interested in trying out for the team. O'Leary and McLain approached Peart and convinced him to try a new sport. “Matt was totally new to the game of football, but he was tall and very athletic. It took him some time to learn the game, but after a year on JV, and a lot of very hard work, he became a two-way varsity starter playing offensive tackle and defensive end, and helped his squad win four consecutive ISL titles,” said O'Leary.
Peart worked hard. And he grew. At 6'5” and 250 lbs, O'Leary was soon introducing him to every college coach that visited Govs, and Peart was offered a scholarship at The University of Connecticut (UConn) where he played offensive tackle for four years after a redshirt year. The two have stayed in close touch and O’Leary was among the first to get a call from Peart on NFL draft night. “I often send him some type of motivational message or remind him to keep working hard. He always replies ‘Yes Coach,’" laughed O'Leary. “Having Matt picked in the NFL draft by the NY Giants was one of my proudest moments as a coach,” he added. “He's also one of the nicest kids I have ever coached. He never forgets his roots.”
Peart’s values, character, and commitment to academic excellence were evident from the day he arrived in Byfield. From a young age, his mother instilled a love of learning in Peart, but also the expectation that he would have to work hard to succeed. In his junior year, Peart won the Williams Prize for persistence and being the most improved academically. As a senior, he was named a dorm proctor and won the Sarah Ellen Avalon award— “presented to that senior who through hard work, determination, and strength of character, has worked to develop their potential to the fullest, and in so doing, has been a true credit to The Governor's Academy.”
“Matthew will always be someone who is very special to our family,” said history teacher Mike Delay P'23 who was Peart’s advisor for four years. “He has a kindness and generosity of spirit that many young people do not possess. My girls will always see Matthew as a big brother—they still use their secret handshake when he comes back to visit.”
Matt Peart '15 with his dorm parent Mike Delay and dorm mates.
Delay isn’t surprised by Peart's success. His teachers and fellow students were drawn to his sincerity; Peart was always authentic in every social setting and he was widely liked and respected within the Govs community. In his senior year, Delay asked Peart to set some goals for the year. Peart put down that he hoped to maintain his high GPA, become a leader on the basketball team, to improve his skills on the football field, and to have a positive impact on the ninth graders in his dorm. According to Delay, Peart met his goals and then some. “Socially, it would be difficult to find someone as upstanding; his integrity and character are stellar, and his empathy and encouragement of others is not only genuine but he seems to possess an endless reservoir of good-cheer and positivity,” said Delay. “Athletically, he’s hard to beat or to miss—All-League football, All-New England football, All-League basketball, Team MVP. But in the end, his sense of team and sportsmanship placed him head and shoulders above his peers,” added Delay.
When he learned about the draft, Delay wrote a friend within the Giants organization to say “You drafted Matthew Peart in the third round yesterday. I was his advisor for four years and I assure you that in addition to getting a great player, you're getting an unbelievable person from a great family.” His friend replied “Everyone in the organization loved everything about Matthew (on the field and off). I can't wait to tell this group that their beliefs have been verified."
As for Peart, playing for the New York Giants is a dream come true, though he did fall just one year short of playing alongside, and protecting, his favorite Giant of all-time, Eli Manning. “My favorite player, my favorite Giant always would be Eli Manning, for sure. The man is just tough, tough as nails. I respect his game and I just respect everything he does for the game,” Peart said.
It’s a story that’s told time and time again at Govs. When students arrive at Govs, they discover the norm is to try new things, to challenge their self-imposed limitations and identity, and to achieve excellence. They also learn that success isn’t a straight path, but something that takes courage, persistence, and maybe the occasional nudge from Coach O'Leary.