There have not been too many players in Kent Roosevelt's storied athletic history quite like senior linebacker Matt Sommers.
Talent and hard work have taken the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Sommers a long way, but it was the discipline and determination instilled in him at a young age that have allowed him to become one of the school's all-time best.
"Matt lettered for us as a freshman and that's very rare," longtime Kent Roosevelt head coach John Nemec said. "In my 29 years at Roosevelt, I've had four freshmen letterwinners, and Matt is one of them. He's a special guy."
"Special" is a good way to describe the reigning 2012 Portage Trail Conference Metro Division Defensive Player of the Year.
But as bizarre as it may seem to discount his on-field production (136 tackles, 3 sacks and 1 interception in 2012), what truly sets Sommers apart from the rest of his peers is his approach to everything he does off the field.
"My dad never pushed me into football, but he told me that if you always want a job or always want to be recognized, you have to be the best in what you do," Sommers said. "It doesn't matter if you're ditch digging or if you're a big-time (athlete).
"That's been what I live by, because I know that all the hard work I put in is so that I can be the best I can be and always have a spot to play," Sommers said.
Sommers' father Randy died in the fall of 2011 after a nine-year battle with leukemia. Sommers was a sophomore.
Nemec, who grew close to the Sommers family even before Randy's death, said that it is obvious why Matt is the driven athlete he is today.
"Matt's dad Randy was a special guy," Nemec said. "Honestly, he was one of the finest guys I'd ever met. His kids loved him and our team loved him. He had really become kind of a father figure to our players and his death was one of the most significant ones we've ever had here at Roosevelt."
Nemec continued, saying that Randy and Matt's mother Sherry raised a son who has come to define what a coach wants out of his team leader.
"The Sommers teach their children to take responsibility for their actions and they demand the best out of their kids," Nemec said. "From a coach's perspective, that is the epitome of what you want a family to be like."
Leadership is important to Sommers, who recently committed to continue his athletic and academic futures at Kent State University.
Even though he was racking up tackles by the boat load during his first three years in the starting lineup for the Rough Riders, Sommers said he knew that the Kent Roosevelt program was bigger than any one player.
"The way it works at Roosevelt is that it is always the seniors' team," Sommers said. "I could make a decision (as an underclassman), but it doesn't matter if it isn't a decision that's backed up by the senior class because this is their team."
For Sommers, Roosevelt became "his" team the moment the clock ticked zero in the Rough Riders' Division II playoff loss to Aurora last year.
"After our last playoff game, it all fell on us," Sommers said of himself and his senior peers. "We became leaders in the weight room, during spring camp and during practices.
"We have coaches there obviously, but they really rely on us, especially when it comes to helping the younger kids," Sommers added.
Nemec said that both he and the Sommers family were excited when Matt's scholarship offer to Kent State -- an offer given under the Darrell Hazell regime -- was honored by new coach Paul Haynes' staff, but he has a message for any other program who may have slept on Roosevelt's star linebacker.
"College coaches who didn't look into the person and really look deep into this young man's personality missed the boat," Nemec said. "This kid is special and Kent State saw the value of recruiting a kid like him. He will wow you with his attitude, because he always comes to work. There is no way that he could not find a way to play on any team in America."
Facebook: Colin Harris, Record-Courier