Beyond the Mat: Matt Latessa
Commitment and leadership. Two words most everyone strives for, but few people attain. Oftentimes the weak spot for an athletic program, coaches and athletes alike generally struggle to string together good performances and develop a program built on consistency. That's why, whenever an athlete comes along who inherits the qualities that make up consistency, a coach oftentimes develops and affinity for him.
"One thing with Matt [Latessa], he's very consistent," said head coach Mike Rogers. "He wrestles so hard. He never takes a step backwards. He's always moving forward. He's the type of guy you like watching because he's always the fan favorite. He's always fighting in his matches, even if he's behind. He's always wrestled hard."
Matt Latessa, now a senior, has not always been the flashiest wrestler on the mat. He has not always been the headliner either. Despite this, it's easy to consider Latessa to be the most consistent, and he embodies all the traits and attributes that, together, make a person consistent, dependable, and trustworthy.
Wrestling is not something new to Latessa. Growing up in Ohio, wrestling has been in his family for a long time. One could say the sport is in his blood.
"It's generational with Matt," Rogers said. "Matt has a coach's son's type of mentality. He knows what it's all about. There are no surprises with him. He knows it's all about the team. He's always making the sacrifices, and it's nice having someone like that on the team."
Talking to Matt, one can tell wrestling is something he lives for. He approaches it like he would approach a final exam or a job interview. He takes everything seriously, and if he doesn't give everything he has every day, it means, in one way or another, he has let his teammates down. At the same time, Latessa manages to strike a healthy balance, knowing when to take something very seriously and when to let an issue slide.
"I've always liked to think of myself as a hard worker," Latessa said. "Not just in wrestling, but in academics and life, I suppose. At the same time, you can't take everything too seriously. Whether it's sports, classes or anything, you just want to take everything one day at a time, every day's a good day."
"I take that attitude to everything I do in life," Latessa added. "You can wake up a six o'clock in the morning for a workout and think 'I'm not getting out of bed today.' But then you have in the back of your mind, 'Well, I gotta do it to get better.' There's a hundred reasons not to wake up but there's always one good reason to wake up and that's what you have to do to be successful."
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Latessa was that, as a senior in college, he has already figured out the key to separating oneself from the pack. What takes most people years of professional experience to fully grasp, Latessa has seemingly mastered before his graduation. He's always looking for the one good reason to do something, and ignores the countless bad reasons not to follow through with a commitment. It's what's special about him. You never have to worry about whether or not he's going to show up on time.
The truly impressive thing about Latessa has been the level of commitment he has shown the team over the course of his four years. His mother, who has dealt with cancer on and off throughout her life, and the rest of his family have been a primary focus for Latessa, as he has shuttled back and forth between F&M and his home in Ohio, tending to the needs of his family, the wrestling program, and any other academic or social commitments he may have without missing a beat. Although it has been tough, the maturity and dedication Latessa possesses is remarkable.
"In the past couple years, of the people in my life I respect the most, my Mom is right up there, she is probably number one," Latessa said. "She got dealt a pretty rough hand. She's had cancer four different times in her life. She always keeps a good attitude and is always looking on the bright side. She has been someone I have always looked up to in my life, just because of how brave and tough she has been throughout her entire life."
"Balancing this with wrestling, there are some times when you just have to be there," he added. "I've been on flights home to see my mom and then the next day be back here wrestling. Which is fine for me. I just have so much support from the guys on the team. They're always there for me if I need them to be."
Latessa's ability to always find a way to come through for both his family and his team has left its mark on those in the program. While it would be easy for him to simply take off and spend his time focused entirely on his family, Latessa has somehow managed to, at the very least, make it seem like his team is of equal importance to him. He has not missed a match, and, despite pleas from his coaching staff and fellow wrestlers, refuses to let his team down.
"When he was going back and forth from Ohio, he never missed a match," Rogers added. "Even when I said, 'Don't, don't come back,' he would always say, 'No, I need to be there for the team.' That just gave me another example to use. How can you be complaining when you know what this kid is dealing with? Deal with what he is dealing with and then still show up. Even for me personally, when I start feeling sorry for myself, it really puts things in perspective."
It is an old cliché that is oftentimes misused, but, in this case, it is appropriate. The sun is guaranteed to rise every day. In terms of consistency, there is no better example. But Latessa comes close, and to say he is dedicated to the team would be to sell both him, and his commitment, short.
Perhaps the most impressive thing Latessa has going for him is not his wrestling ability, his academic prowess, or the dedication he shows to both his family and his team. Rather, the most impressive thing is how he handles himself. When presented with the compliments and praise he received from his peers, Latessa was appreciative, but, at the same time, humble and understanding of the fact that, in the end, what he is being praised for is simply in the job description.
"For me, I like to think that's just being dependable," Latessa said when presented with things his peers said about him. "All those adjectives … that's just doing your job. Being there at every practice, that's expected. Being able to answer the phone when Coach calls you or being able to help out with recruits. I think that's all part of being a team member and I don't necessarily think that's atypical of any other guy on the team."
"At a certain point, you make a commitment to the team and at that point it's just being there, it's your duty to be there," he added. "It's not anything that's too special. Not to say that it's a bad thing, but it's just expected."
With those comments, Latessa revealed his true character. Latessa is not about being the flashiest, most popular, or being the wrestler grabbing all the headlines. Rather, Latessa is about being a leader to those around him, remaining committed to those he made a promise to, and upholding what is a proud wrestling tradition, both at F&M and within his own family.
Those three characteristics are what best describe Latessa. With them, he has cultivated success on the mat and received respect and admiration from the people surrounding him. Unfortunately, these traits are becoming uncommon in today's world, and by seeking to do what he believes should be ordinary, he has made himself extraordinary. Latessa has uncovered the secrets of being truly successful.
In the process, Latessa has molded himself into what just about every coach in America is searching for: a model of consistency. Not every athlete has it, but when one comes around who does, it's safe to say he will leave his mark and those around him will respect him for it.
Latessa is no exception.