Tennant looking for NFL home
BC center waits for next move
With the interviews over, the drills complete, and the visits done, Boston College center Matt Tennant knew just the place to unwind.
Tennant didn’t book a trip to an exotic coast; he headed last week to Union Mills, Ind., a town south of Lake Michigan between Chicago and South Bend, Ind. For 2 1/2 days, he hunkered down at his grandparents’ home on six acres of land once used as a strawberry patch.
The last two months have been like a long job interview for Tennant. From the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., to the NFL Combine to individual visits with various teams, Tennant and other draft prospects have been doing whatever they can to catch the eye of an NFL team before the draft, which begins tomorrow. A break in Tennant’s schedule gave him time to visit his grandparents, Phillip and Lee Ann Wall, and rest at a place he visited numerous times while growing up in Cincinnati.
Instead of answering mind-numbing questions from NFL people, Tennant listened to history lessons from his grandfather. They flipped through family albums and laughed at pictures of Tennant hidden under an oversized football helmet at 3 years old. The tractor Wall once taught Tennant how to drive has been sold, but the burger joint not far from their home remains.
“It’s just a peaceful place,’’ Tennant said. “There’s not a lot of people living around there. It’s a place for peace and tranquility.’’
Football is in Tennant’s genes. Wall played right end for the University of Tulsa in 1951 before he was drafted off to the Korean War. Wall received a scholarship to play football and a $15 stipend for incidentals.
“It seems like a joke now, but that’s what they offered then,’’ said Wall with a chuckle.
When Wall returned from the war, he transferred to Kansas to study engineering, and his interest in sports took a back seat as he worked for
“After I got back from the service, we never watched any professional sports at all,’’ Wall said.
The Walls raised four children, including Tennant’s mother, Pam, on their six acres. Their two sons played football and other sports, and eventually Tennant would follow.
“We didn’t have anything to do with [football] until Matthew started playing when he was a small boy and we would go down to watch him play,’’ Wall said.
Tennant, the oldest of Wall’s grandchildren, began playing football in kindergarten. He dabbled in other sports but football stuck. When Tennant played basketball, he said, he was “too rough of a kid. I always was the first one to foul out.’’
Once at Archbishop Moeller High, Tennant began to realize his childhood sport could help pay for college. He balanced his football experience with track and wrestling while he watched college interest build in his football skills. Eventually, he settled on BC.
The Walls made trips to Alumni Stadium, catching most Eagles home games and half of their road games. When Tennant was on the field, Wall would miss half the action because he was so focused on his grandson.
When Wall thinks about his favorite memories of seeing his grandson, it is a simple block that stands out.
“The tackle was coming through the line and Matthew stayed with him as [quarterback Matt] Ryan fell back and he was still protecting him,’’ Wall said. “In my opinion he wasn’t holding him but he got charged with the hold. I turned to my wife and said, ‘What? This is his job, to protect him.’ I thought it was pretty outstanding.’’
When Tennant is on the field, he often repeats his grandfather’s favorite phrase: “hit ’em hard and hit ’em low,’’ which was preached to him in his youth.
“I didn’t know what it meant at first, but as time progressed, I learned to understand it’s something more than just football,’’ Tennant said. “It’s just understanding the game and what you’re there to do.’’
Watching Tennant go through this process has been a treat for Wall. He said Tennant is a “far, far superior athlete’’ than his grandfather ever was, and he can appreciate what goes into being an NFL player now.
“I know that since watching this NFL station that they approach it so scientifically as opposed to say, when I played you were just an athlete and you played with the athleticism that you had,’’ Wall said. “There was no weightlifting, controlled diet, or anything like that. That’s all changed. I think it’s better than it ever was.’’
Tennant has been right in the midst of it all, trying to bulk up to 300 pounds. He is 6 feet 4 inches and considered a taller center, but he has been hearing from NFL teams that he could be used as a center. Tennant said he is open to playing wherever he is needed. He has picked up many techniques over his time at BC, having played for three head coaches and four offensive line coaches.
Such turnover could have been a challenge, but Tennant embraced it as a chance to be exposed to different ideas.
“Everybody focused on something different and it was just one more technique and that in a way was very beneficial,’’ Tennant said.
NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said the interior offensive line group isn’t very deep this season, but Tennant is a strong prospect.
“I like Matt Tennant,’’ said Mayock. “I think he’s one of the more solid interior linemen in this draft. I think he could be a solid player, especially in a zone scheme.’’
Tennant’s family is going to get together for the draft and wait to see where the next stage of this process takes him.
“I’ve always tried to think of all of this as just a temporary thing,’’ Tennant said. “I don’t take any of it for granted. In high school, I thought a small Division 3 school might want me. I’ve been fortunate. If the opportunity is there in the NFL, I’m going to take advantage of it.’’
Monique Walker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.