Matt Hennessy’s success can’t be judged solely by what he has achieved on the football field. Or in the classroom.
To get the true picture of Temple’s redshirt junior center, take it from an NFL veteran.
“Not only does he perform so well in academics and football, but Matt treats everybody in an elite way,” said his older brother Thomas, now in his third season as a long snapper for the New York Jets.
Speaking by phone during the preseason, Thomas Hennessy, a quality student-athlete in his own right who earned his undergraduate degree in biology and master’s degree in business from Duke, couldn’t say enough good things about his younger brother.
“He is the hardest worker,” Thomas Hennessy said. “He loves football and wants to be the best, and is so disciplined in working in football and in the classroom.”
Finding somebody to say a bad word about Hennessy is even more difficult than being blocked by him. And make no mistake, it’s no picnic going up each week against the 6-foot-4, 295-pound center.
“He’s the best center I have been around,” said Temple coach Rod Carey, whose team has a bye this week after an opening 56-12 win over Bucknell.
Carey’s expertise in coaching offensive linemen comes from his three years as a starting center at Indiana University in the early 1990s.
“He is good, and still has some things he has to do to get better at, and can get better at, and that is the great thing about Matt,” Carey said. “He is never satisfied and is continuing to try to get better.”
Hennessy isn’t shy, but he’s also not a self-promoter. He’d rather talk about his teammates than himself. A case in point was this past summer, when it was announced that he was named the American Athletic Conference football scholar athlete of the year.
“When he got that award, we were all super proud of him and he was like, ‘Thanks very much,’ and after that it was over and he was on to the next thing,” said his mother, Andrea.
Despite being a redshirt junior, Hennessy is just two courses away from earning his finance degree at Temple, which he will do this semester. His grade-point average is 3.69 on a 4.0 scale. He lists risk management insurance as one of his favorite subjects.
Matt credits his father, Tom, and his mother for instilling strong academic values at an early age, and his brother for setting the example.
“He is just so consistent," said guard Jovahn Fair, a graduate student who was second-team all-AAC last season. “He is the same every play, every day, and he is a machine, really.”
A machine who can steamroll an opponent physically, and out-think him as well.
Hennessy had never played center before coming to Temple. He played tackle at North Jersey power Don Bosco Prep. But when he was recruited by Temple, then-coach Matt Rhule and former offensive line coach Chris Wiesehan told him he would be better suited at center.
“They felt with my physical tools and all the mental things needed at the position that I would make a good transition to center,” Hennessy said.
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And not surprisingly, he adapted quickly. Even though he redshirted his freshman year, Hennessy played in three games and the coaching staff debated his redshirt status.
Hennessy, considered an NFL prospect, might have a difficult decision at the end of the season about entering the draft or returning to Temple for his final season of eligibility. When it was suggested to one NFL scout, who requested anonymity, that Hennessy could be a mid-round draft pick, the scout disagreed.
“He is better than a mid-round pick,” the scout said. “If he decided to come out, he is such a good athlete, I think that he would be a guy people would be interested in.”
While so much is made of Hennessy’s intelligence, the scout said his athletic ability stands out on tape.
“He is an athletic center, and those guys in this day and age with zone teams, he can get to the second level,” the said scout. “He is a really good athlete, smart, and I think will be a quality NFL center.”
“It is super tough to speculate,” said Hennessy. “All I can do is take things one day at a time.”
It might not be the most exciting response, but that is how Hennessy lives his life.
Among the other honors he has received is earning a single-digit uniform number, which Temple awards to players for their toughness and dedication. Since offensive linemen are required to wear jersey numbers from 50 to 79 in games, Hennessy still wears a No. 58 jersey for games but last year was awarded No. 3 to wear on his practice jersey, and on his helmet during games.
“He is the same guy every day, the same attitude, ready to work, never complains,” senior linebacker Sam Franklin, another single-digit player, said of Hennessy. “He is the embodiment of the single digit.”
And the embodiment of a student-athlete.