This linebacker thing is in the genes for Mead senior Danny Mattingly.
His father, Sam, played linebacker at Butler University. His brother, Andy, was a two-year starter at Washington State University. Danny is headed to Notre Dame.
Mattingly, who has sprouted to 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, came upon the realization that football would be his ticket to college following his junior season. Then just after Christmas, texts and calls started flooding his cellphone.
In a three-month period, Mattingly picked up 15 scholarship offers.
The first offer came from coach Beau Baldwin at Eastern Washington University. Mattingly still has the text from Mead coach Sean Carty in which Baldwin extended the offer.
“He wanted to be the first coach to offer,” Mattingly said. “I think that’s cool. He said he knew I’d get offers from bigger schools, but he wanted to be the first.”
The offers from bigger schools piled up. By summer, the defending national champs, Alabama, had offered along with a who’s who of schools, including Notre Dame.
By the time Mattingly visited Notre Dame in late June, his top six schools were: Alabama, Miami, Oklahoma, UCLA, Washington and Notre Dame.
Not long after he was on the campus in South Bend, Ind., though, Mattingly had made up his mind.
“It just felt right,” he said.
Growing up in a Catholic family, Mattingly’s longtime dream was to play at Notre Dame. While on the unofficial visit, he got a picture of the famous plaque above the locker room exit: ‘Play Like a Champion.’ And walking into the Fighting Irish’s stadium is, well, almost a religious experience.
He gave Notre Dame an oral commitment and immediately canceled scheduled visits to Oklahoma and Miami.
Notre Dame wasn’t on Mattingly immediately.
“They recruit so broadly that it took them some time,” Mattingly said. “Then I got a Facebook message from an assistant coach asking me to call.”
It was 8 p.m. Spokane time, three hours later in South Bend. Mattingly called and the coach answered.
The following week the coach was walking the halls of Mead High School. Mattingly scheduled his late June trip.
He fights the urge to daydream about playing at Notre Dame with the fact that he has some unfinished business at Mead. The Panthers advanced to the State 4A playoff quarterfinals last year and were eliminated by eventual state champion Skyline.
Mead lost its starting center against Skyline and was down to playing a fifth-string center by game’s end.
“Skyline played well, give them credit, but it was a disappointing way to go out,” Mattingly said.
The fact the Panthers’ season ended earlier than they wanted – and not so much losing specifically to Skyline – is motivation for this season.
First, though, Mead must get through the Greater Spokane League and earn one of the two play-in berths. The Panthers aren’t taking anything for granted even if they’ve been installed as runaway favorites.
“Right now this team is the most important thing to me,” Mattingly said. “This team means so much to me. I want to spend as much time as I can with them before I head off to Notre Dame.
“I look at every game as a challenge. There are always good teams in the GSL. We’ve got a target on our backs. We need to treat every game as the most important and that will get us to our ultimate goal.”
Mattingly, who also starts at tight end, plays at outside linebacker on the wide side of the field. Last week, Lewis and Clark ran exclusively to the short side.
Carty doesn’t know if that will be a pattern, but to guard against it plans are in place to play Mattingly some at rover – essentially a fifth linebacker spot with their usual three-man front. The rover lines up in the middle of the field.
“We introduced the concept of putting Danny there last spring,” Carty said. “At first he was lukewarm about it because he likes to blitz and because he’s become so polished at the outside spot. He’s relentless on the field and it’s obvious he has a good time playing.”
Carty coached Mattingly’s older brother, too. What are the comparisons?
“Physically, they’re really close at the same age,” Carty said. “They both ran about 4.6 (40-yard dash) speed. Andy had a bigger frame in the end. Both have really, really good hands.”
Danny has two interceptions through three games and he returned one for a touchdown. He’s caught two passes and has two touchdowns at tight end.
“If he could be on the field all the time he would,” Carty said. “But we try to get him some rest here and there. I remember last year we put him in on kickoff coverage once and he came off the field saying how much fun it was and he wanted to do it all the time. But we have to try to save some energy for the most important things.”
Mattingly politely danced around the question of whether Mead is better this year than last fall.
“I definitely think we’ve got a chance to do great things,” he said. “We have great team chemistry. We always look for ways to get better. It’s always about the team.”