Matsakis still upbeat with Defiance effort

WHEELING – A one-win season may not be a source of hope for most coaches, but Manny Matsakis in not your average football coach.

The Shadyside native is the master of the reclamation projects. His maiden voyage directing the Defiance College grid team resulted in a 1-9 campaign this fall.

Two solid reasons played into that less-than-gaudy mark.

First, Defiance is a down-trodden program, posting just one winning season in the last 12. Secondly, and possibly even more importantly, Matsakis took the job Aug. 7, less than a month before the Yellow Jackets’ first game.

It was the ultimate stacked deck.

Matsakis remains undaunted in his transformation efforts. In fact, he is more optimistic than ever.

“We improved as we went along. That was our plan. With the late start we got, we knew wins would be hard to come by,” Matsakis said. “This is a great place with a great opportunity to turn around a program. It was an interesting first season.

“I learned a lot. I learned the lay of the land. This is a football region,” he added. “The support is tremendous here. At any level, the administration is key to success. At Defiance we have the best president ever. She is fantastic. At any level, the administration is a big key to success. She is the best president ever. We also have very supportive alumni.”

While the Yellow Jackets garnered just a single win, the squad did exhibit steady progress. After losing its first eight games, Defiance captured its initial win by trouncing Earlham, 28-10. Moreover, the Yellow Jackets were competitive in four other contests with the outcomes decided in the fourth quarter.

Matsakis feels so good about his program’s future he scheduled Mount Union for a home-and-home series commencing next season.

“Mount Union is the best D-III program in the nation and has been for a long while. What better way for us to showcase and promote our program? They will help us to fill our stadium,” Matsakis noted. “We are light years ahead from when we took over. There is a lot of excitement around what we are building.

“We are recruiting well. We are getting commitments from several nice players. We are also looking into some Ohio Valley players,” added the former Capital University star. “This past year we had 40 freshmen. Next year we hope to have 70 freshmen and more than 100 players.”

While the Yellow Jackets’ season produced just one win on the gridiron, it yielded Matsakis a friendship with another Belmont County native. Matsakis struck up a positive relationship with Defiance High Athletic director Jerry Buti.

Buti is a former Bellaire High grid star. He guided Defiance High to the 1997 Division II state football championship. Buti is now the school’s athletic director.

“It really is a small world. When I got here I didn’t know I would run into any Ohio Valley natives,” Matsakis said. “I got to know Jerry. I have a lot of admiration what he accomplished as a head football coach and now as an athletic director.

“We have forged a nice friendship. He understands what we are trying to do here,” the former Shadyside three-sport star noted. “Jerry is a great football man. He will be a big ally to our efforts here.”

Matsakis doesn’t shy away from major rebuilding projects. Rather, he embraces them.

He has put in stints at the University of Wyoming, Emporia State University, Kansas State University and Hofstra University. At every step of the way, Matsakis has been cast with a program down on its luck.

Kansas State was the ultimate in grid reconstruction efforts. The Wildcats earned the dubious distinction of being the worst D-I football program in the nation.

Bill Snyder took the K-State reins, and with the help of Matsakis as his special teams coordinator and tight ends coach — turned the Wildcats into a formidable Big 8 (now Big 12) force.

Matsakis then landed his first head coaching job at Emporia State. His four-year stay saw the Hornets go from mediocre to one of the best D-II programs in the nation. Former Buckeye Local great Chet Pobolish was one of Emporia’s key figures.

His Emporia State reclamation work earned him the offensive coordinator’s job at Wyoming. In one year, he elevated the worst offense in the Mountain West to the top-rated one.

Matsakis then hooked on at Texas Tech with two offensive gurus. Mike Leach — the Godfather of the Air Raid offense — was the Red Raiders head coach while current WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen was offensive coordinator.

“I was part of the biggest turnaround in D-I history at Kansas State,” the confident 56-year-old noted. “Now I want to be part of the biggest turnaround in small college football history.”


KURT STEIN has led his Oakdale High (Md.) football team into the Maryland Class AA championship game. The Bears defeated Elkton, 38-0, Friday night in improving to 12-0 on the campaign. The 2000 Wheeling Central grad will now prepare his team for a state championship clash with Gleneig (13-0) on Saturday at 7 p.m. in Annapolis.

Stein was hired as the first head coach at Oakdale High, consolidation of students from Linganore, Thomas Johnson and Urbana high schools in 2010. Oakdale is located about 45 minutes from Washington D.C. and currently has some 1,200 students in grades 9-12.

Stein and his squad may be wrapping up a state championship at the same time his alma mater is doing the same against Williamstown at Wheeling Island Stadium.

I am picking the Maroon Knights and Bears to both pocket state crowns.


THE STEELERS visit the Broncos today. One of Denver’s defensive stalwarts is Beaver Local grad Derek Wolfe. The talented lineman has recorded 21 solo tackles and seven assists while starting all 10 games this season. The former University of Cincinnati star has has 1.5 sacks, two tackles for losses, five QB hits and on interception.

THE UNIVERSITY of North Alabama’s women’s basketball team is now 5-0 on the season. The Lions are coached by former Bellaire High and West Liberty hoop standout Missy Tiber.

JACK COOK wrapped up his redshirt freshman campaign at the University of Dayton in fine fashion last week. He connected on 10-of-16 passes for 140 yards and a TD while running for another as the Flyers routed Jacksonville, 34-7, to finish 6-5. For the season, the Seneca Valley High (Pa.) product completed 170-of-280 aerials for 2,421 yards. He tossed 20 TDs while being picked off just twice. he is the son of Ohio Valley natives Scott and Jenn Cook. Scott was a standout athlete at Shadyside High.

PAXSON WOJCIK has inked a D-I scholarship to Loyola of Chicago – the Cinderella darlings of the NCAA Tournament last March. Paxson is the son of Wheeling Central grad Doug Wojcik who played on Skip Prosser’s 1982 Maroon Knight Class AA state championship team. Doug enjoyed a sparkling playing career at the U.S. Naval Academy, helping the Midshipmen to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament, upsetting Syracuse along the way. Doug enjoyed successful head coaching at Tulsa and the University of Charleston.

THE BOSTON College women’s basketball team has won its first four starts of the season. The Eagles are coached by former Weirton Madonna grad Joanna (Bernabei) McNamee.

KRISTIN LEWICKI is doing some nice things with the Metropolitan Riveters in the National Women’s Hockey League. The John Marshall High grad is fifth on the team in shots on goal (15) and is also effective on face-offs, winning 20 of 34. The former Adrian (Mich.) College All-American and D-III Player-of-the-Year has 13 shots on goal for the 1-6 defending league champions. Her Ohio Valley fans will have a chance to watch her play in person a week from today as the Riveters take on the Connecticut Whale

at the UPMC Mario Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry Township (Pa.) Game time is 3:30 p.m.

THE WVU-Oklahoma game is an entertaining of a contest as you will ever see. The Mountaineers have no one to blame but themselves for the setback. You cannot give the high-octane Sooners two defensive TDs. The game may go a long way in helping Kyler Murray win the Heisman Trophy.