With football and injuries behind him, Bockhorst opens up on closing one chapter and starting another

With football and injuries behind him, Bockhorst opens up on closing one chapter and starting another

Football

With football and injuries behind him, Bockhorst opens up on closing one chapter and starting another

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The last time he spoke publicly as a Clemson football player, Matt Bockhorst was riding an emotional rollercoaster.

In late October, with a group of reporters huddled around him inside Clemson’s indoor practice facility, Bockhorst spoke through tears as the realization of a career ended prematurely set in. The Tigers’ veteran offensive lineman and team captain, fresh off his most serious injury in a career full of them, sat with a bulky brace on his right knee with crutches by his side as he reflected on his playing days and voiced appreciation for the five years he spent at Clemson.

Eight months later, Bockhorst is in a much better place mentally and physically.

“I would say I’m at peace with it,” said Bockhorst, a two-year starter and all-ACC performer for the Tigers.

The Clemson Insider caught up with Bockhorst recently and covered a number of topics in the following Q&A session, including his health, his decision to walk away from the sport, his post-football lifestyle, what the next chapter of his life looks like and more.

That was a pretty serious knee injury you suffered against Pittsburgh. Are you fully recovered at this point?

Yeah, I would say absolutely. I am on the mend, but probably I would say I’m fully healthy. Obviously my lifestyle has changed quite a bit. I don’t find myself pushing on other large 300-pound men often these days, which is probably a good sign. But it’s been good. Obviously getting out and having the opportunity to drop some pounds and take some pressure off of both my knees really has been good, and it’s definitely been something that is probably been a long time coming, So that’s that’s been good, and I feel really healthy. 

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said you tore your ACL, but was that the extent of the injury?

No, it wasn’t just the ACL. I tore my ACL, MCL and both the medial and lateral meniscus. There was also some articular cartilage damage and a fracture in my femur. Definitely I can say with certainty that was the most painful injury I went through and not fun, but it’s all good now. 

During your last press conference at Clemson, you were pretty emotional about the finality of your career. What have the last eight months been like for you coming to grips with that and moving on to the next chapter of your life?

Yeah, I think it’s definitely a very pivotal time in my life and really when you think about all college athletes and college football players in particular whose season ends at the end of December or early January and most of whom are not playing professionally. I think all of us, if you’re playing at that level, have played organized sports for a large majority of your life, and it is definitely a transition that a lot of people struggle with and kind of understanding what their new identity is going to be.

I think what I have found and always felt to be true and now can say absolutely is true is that there’s so many things about being a football player or student that transfers so well into life and the way that you have learned how to not just work hard but compete. The way you’ve learned how to be accountable and be dependable to your teammates and understanding how to have self-discipline and what it means to sacrifice, I think those are skills that many of our peers who perhaps did not have the opportunity to play athletics at such a high level, maybe did not have the opportunity to be taught during their college years, and to be a student-athlete, to be a Clemson football player, there is a lot of maturity that is required of that and a lot of discipline.

Clemson offensive guard Matt Bockhorst (65) plays against NC State during the 3rd quarter Saturday, September 25, 2021 at at N.C. State’s Carter Finley Stadium in Raleigh. Bart Boatwright/The Clemson Insider

Anybody at any school who plays college athletics knows that the experience of a student-athlete throughout college is considerably different than the rest of our peers, and I think that’s something in the moment, at times, it’s hard to be mature and hard to have discipline and to sacrifice perhaps the social life or fun things others get to do. But now, I can speak for myself, but I would say everybody once they get out into the real world and are working a normal job, it’s not so hard to wake up early and go to work every day and it’s not hard to not just do the bare minimum but excel and be a true asset whether it’s your company or the organization that you are working for, and that’s something that I think has been really evident to me is just the discipline and the values that were instilled in me at my time at Clemson now allow me to really kind of keep myself between the guardrails, I guess.

But at the same time, I think it is also very, very humbling in a lot of ways to have your career come to an end, especially when some of your peers have the opportunity  to play at the next level and you’re extremely happy for them. Anybody who gets the opportunity to play in the NFL is fulfilling a lifelong dream likely and understands how rare it really is to be in that select group. And so it’s definitely a balance and internally you really do want to be genuinely happy for your teammates, and I know that I am. And I can say that with absolute truth. But, at the same time, you have to be honest with yourself and have conversations with yourself about the fact that, for you, the road has come to an end. And now it’s time to use all those skills that you’ve learned over the years and employ them in a different arena.

Before your injury this past season, did you have aspirations of playing in the NFL?

Yeah, I think throughout my entire life, I was always the kid who wanted to be the NFL player. And I think as I got older it became more realistic and something that was within reach. But it’s no secret that throughout my career, really before my senior year in high school, I dealt with knee problems in my left knee. And I think when it came to last season, I still had aspirations and hopes to play in the NFL, but there was also a lot of internal struggle mentally with kind of coming to grips with the fact that I knew I wasn’t all that healthy. I knew that probably was preventing me from continuing to reach new heights as a player, and I think ultimately it something that I pondered: to continue to pursue that dream and leave the MBA program (at Clemson) early and kind of leave college without a job lined up and take my shot. Or also, hey, you know what, it’s OK to be honest with yourself and to be self-aware and to shut it down.

But obviously that decision ended up being made for me, and who knows? Maybe that happened for a reason. But I think it’s when you talk about athletics or really anything, if you’re trying to do it at an elite level, everybody’s got doubts. It’s very very hard to not let those doubts creep in, and I think there’s got to be a lot of people out there who, if they did let their doubts creep in, then we wouldn’t know who they are. That’s something, as an athlete, you want to take pride in but also, like I said, I think it is important to be self-aware. Once again, it’s a balance and trying to find a little bit of both.

Did you still have a COVID year that you could’ve used to return for a sixth season?

I did. I redshirted in 2017. If you redshirted, you can do six (years), which you saw that with (former safety) Nolan Turner, (former linebacker) James Skalski, (former punter) Will Spiers and those guys. I have the utmost respect for anyone who is willing to play college football for six years. For me, I early on was pretty set in stone that I was not going to go that route. I think just going back to just the injuries and I think really the culmination of the wear and tear that kind of you go through with your body, especially playing offensive line and interior offensive line. It’s extremely physical, and a lot of people don’t truly understand the extent of what our bodies go through. And, for me, I just was mentally exhausted given the physical condition that my body was in. So I knew regardless that it would be my last season playing college football.

Did you finish up your Master of Business Administration (MBA) this spring?

I’m actually finishing up this summer. I’ve still got some credit hours, but nothing much left. Finishing up here within the next month.

So what is next for you in terms of your career?

Actually, I began working full-time in January even while I was a full-time MBA student. I really was convicted for multiple years on what I wanted to do following an internship I did through Paw Journey, and that is wealth management. Having the financial management background and also I felt as though my personality would lend itself very well to the profession. Following the injury that kind of ended things, I very soon started to explore options given the definitive timeline that was now in my hands. For a while, I kind of anticipated that I would be working for one firm, but really through multiple connections with coaches in the facility and otherwise, I was introduced to the gentleman that I’m working for now. He is a Clemson alum. His name is Joe Schofield. The company that we work for is called Beacon Pointe. It’s private wealth management.

Our South Carolina office obviously has the traditional private wealth clients but also a lot of professional athletes as well and former professional athletes, and that, to me, was very attractive and really ultimately what I had in mind and what I pictured for my career in the field. That is what I have hoped would be one day the case for me is that yes, you have your traditional surgeons, lawyers or business owners and obviously those are great clients that you develop relationships with throughout life, but also given my background in athletics and former teammates of mine, I knew that I wanted to have athletes as well. That’s something that I’m passionate about.

Clemson offensive guard Matt Bockhorst sits on the sidelines during the 4th quarter after leaving the game with an injury in the first half at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, PA, Saturday, October 23, 2021 Bart Boatwright/The Clemson Insider

I think a lot of professional athletes come into a lot of money and are put into relationships by some people around them with a person who may or may not have their best interest in mind and really might not understand them as a person, and so that, for me, felt very natural. I began working in January in Greenville with Beacon Pointe and now over the past couple months have been transitioning down to the Charleston area. I’m now located on Isle of Palms in our office, which is, all things considered, not that bad.

What is your title with the company? And what does your job entail?

My title is associate wealth advisor, but really I’m operating as a wealth advisor for clients. I’m the contact for them. I’m the one who kind of gets everything done for them. I’m the point person on all of those relationships that are my relationships, and so it’s a lot of conversations about obviously finding where somebody is at and if they have not yet had a relationship with a wealth advisor or if they are at another firm and they’re not necessarily satisfied and really having those one-on-one conversations that are naturally very intimate conversations.

Having their best interests in mind, understanding how to interpret market conditions and the greater macroeconomic environment, couple those with their timeline and their financials and really collaborating with them and having those conversations to deliver to them. A custom portfolio that is tailor made for them.

It’s been an absolute blast. It has been everything I hoped it would be and more, and the most fulfilling part of it is really the interactions with the clients and understanding the responsibility that comes with playing such an important role in their lives and understanding the opportunity and privilege that I have to be that person for those clients. It’s been very fast paced. I’ve been drinking from a fire hose and had the opportunity and continue to have the opportunity to learn so much from Joe and his experience in the business and the great success that he’s had. So I feel like the situation that I find myself in is really hard to beat.

How many clients do you have at this point?

Well there’s some confidentiality there, but I would say things have moved extremely quickly. I’ve been able to have a tremendous amount of growth, and it’s been very very exciting for me to come in in six short months and get to the point that I have. It is absolutely a business that requires stick-to-itiveness, tough skin and ultimately it is very easy to tell if somebody is being disingenuous. You need to be a very, very intentional person and really invest in and cultivate meaningful relationships, and that was what I believe is a strong suit of mine and what has really allowed me to get to the point I have quickly.

I am settled into Charleston officially and really just working to continue to grow my network down here. There’s a huge Clemson presence, which certainly doesn’t hurt and. And really kind of for me I guess, in a way, it’s re-establishing who people know Matt Backhorst to be and understanding how passionate I am about what I do and and the level of service that I believe not only Beacon Pointe but myself personally have the capabilities to provide.

Was there a moment in the last eight months where you truly came to peace with your decision to leave football behind?

I would say I’m at peace with it. I think probably one of the most difficult days was Senior Day. It’s just a very emotional day at a place that you have invested so much time and effort into and a place that you feel this very strong sense of belonging to. That obviously is one of many things that makes Clemson just so special. That was obviously a challenging day and sharing that day with my family and my parents. That was really the day when, whether I wanted to or not, I think it was the day when I was really forced to let it go and turn my sights toward what was ahead.

It has been a very, very fun and exciting couple of months now moving on from the program and really I think looking back at October or November and those days when the wounds were still fresh to now is pretty incredible. I try not to let that get lost in everything else and how quickly things have moved, but it is crazy where you’re at in one year versus the next and how much life changes.

You mentioned dropping some weight since you’ve quit playing. What weight did you play at last season? How much have you lost since? And what’s been your biggest lifestyle change?

Around this time last year going into the season, I was prepared to play guard or center but at the time was playing guard, so I was probably 325 (pounds). And then once I kind of locked in at center, I dropped down to about 315, which is traditionally a more comfortable weight for me and really where I kind of hovered around during my career. Now? Gosh, I’m probably 275, which it’s funny because, to most people’s standards, 275 is still a pretty big fellow, which is not untrue.

But for me, I feel really good, and really I think the biggest thing for a lot of people is being disciplined in what you eat and understanding, hey, I’m not going out to practice and burning 2,000 calories so I really don’t need to be eating as much. Really as you get into a new phase and into a new routine, you gradually learn how much to eat, when to eat and what not to eat. so it’s been good. It’s been not as quick as some. There are some guys that, three months later, they’re down 50 pounds.. So not quite that (much). I might have a couple of not-so-healthy meals on the weekends, but we’re getting there.

Are you shooting for a certain weight?

I guess in my mind, I’ve always thought 265, but it’s hard to say. Who knows? I could get to 265 and say I want to be 250. But really I think just the most important thing is guarding against getting heavier. Unfortunately, you see guys who make the transition away from football – and certainly not just linemen but people at all positions – who they have a really hard time changing their eating habits. So that is concerning. You don’t want to go throughout life carrying that much weight, and, for me, I’ve been big my whole life. My mom would tell me I was big boned, but let’s be honest. So I was – right, wrong or indifferent – perhaps motivated to shed some of that weight off and finally get to where I felt was comfortable and sustainable.

Clemson offensive tackle Jordan McFadden (71), linebacker James Skalski (47), and offensive guard Matt Bockhorst (65) after the Tigers win over Louisville Saturday, November 6, 2021 at Louisville’s Cardinal Stadium. Bart Boatwright/The Clemson Insider

When’s the last time you weighed 275?

My freshman year of high school I think.

Has it mainly been a healthier diet that’s worked for you? Or are you also exercising regularly?

Yeah, I would say I exercise. Not very intensely. That was something also that was I wouldn’t say was a struggle early on this spring, but something that was hindering (my exercise) was just the knee rehab. Obviously you can’t push the knee rehab. It’ll prevent you from doing a lot of things, a lot of lower-body stuff and intense cardio. So for a while there when I was still around the facility, I would actually do quite a bit of swimming.

Now just any sort of low-impact stuff. It could even be going on a walk for an hour and just trying to move around and stay active but also be protective of my knees and not try to cause any further damage. But I would say eventually when I’m back up to it, I’ll probably get a little bit more competitive about working out. Right now, I’m living the leisure lifestyle to a certain degree.

You’ve now had five surgeries on your left knee. Do you have any residual knee pain at this point?

Yeah, let’s be honest. There’s a price you pay, and I knowingly and willingly paid that price. But I’m going to deal with for the rest of my life without question. Like I said, there’s a lot of sacrifice that people don’t understand. There’s a level of just wear and tear and a beating that happens on your body, especially if you’re somebody like myself who kind of had a string of injuries and string of injuries on the same knee. It is something that I have to manage and will have to manage for years to come.

I have to be very careful and cognizant about not doing things that are high impact or putting myself in a position of risk. And there’s a lot of activities out there. I don’t anticipate going out to Utah or Colorado and going snow skiing anytime soon, but as far as a day-to-day basis, you know, it’s good. I’m not sitting there and taking Advil all day just begging it to stop, but it is definitely something that is it’s there and it has to be managed.

Do you ever see yourself being involved with football again in some capacity?

I would really consider myself involved with the game of football now. It’s very peripheral, but I think that’s what’s been cool is I’m on the outside looking into a certain degree but also still having those interactions with the guys that I would have been in the locker room with and having those conversations and that connection. Obviously you’ll hear many former football players who will talk about being in the locker room and missing being with the guys, and so I feel like I get a very unique opportunity to still have some level of that interaction in my current position.

But as far as direct involvement, I would never say never. I know Coach Swinney and some of the others were campaigning to push me toward coaching, but I understand the level of commitment that comes with being a coach. It is a lot of work. And especially in your early years, you have to be willing to pay your dues and then some. I guess another deterrent would be it’s just very volatile when you talk about the coaching carousel in college football. Clemson has been very very fortunate with the lack of turnover on our staff. This past season, we saw some of that in a positive way, guys getting promoted and hired from being a coordinator to a head coach. And that’s great.

Clemson offensive guard Matt Bockhorst (65) is recognized on senior day Saturday, November 20, 2021 at Clemson’s Memorial Stadium. Bart Boatwright/The Clemson Insider

But at a lot of other schools, and it doesn’t matter if it’s (Division I), (Division II) or down the line, there is some level of uncertainty of job security. That makes me a little uneasy, and that is something that college coaches across the country sacrifice to do the thing that they love, which is coach football. I have a lot of respect for that. But I also don’t know if I would be prepared at this stage of my life to make that sort of commitment. But also I think there are still other ways to remain involved in the game of football, particularly with Clemson football.

Having conversations with (Clemson radio announcer) Don Munson, for example, and figuring out ways that I could, whether it’s a pregame show or filling in for somebody who’s absent to call a game, still try to be part of Clemson football. Just because you’re not on the field as a player or coach doesn’t mean that you can’t give your time and still be all in, which is something that I believe that I will be for life. I will die a Clemson Tiger for good reason. So there’s a lot of ways and things that are in the works right now that I think could be great opportunities, but I do anticipate that I would be remaining around the game in some capacity for years to come.

Do you plan on returning to Clemson to attend any games this fall?

That’s what is to be determined. I think there’s some things in the works that aren’t really final by any means, and so I wouldn’t want to comment on any specifics. But I would absolutely anticipate being back. If for no other reason, my little brother, Patrick, is going into his first year as an equipment manager with the team. Just coming back to see him and my parents and just everybody else who is part of that collective Clemson family is absolutely something I intend on. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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