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September 10, 2009

After long wait, Waldron anxious to give Hokies a leg up on competition

By: Jimmy Robertson

The last time he kicked a field goal in an actual game, he hadn’t even graduated from high school.

He hadn’t even gone to his senior prom. He barely had his driver’s license.

Heck, the last time he kicked a field goal in a game, sock hops were in style, hockey was still relevant, and Brett Favre hadn’t retired.

Oh, wait.

Exaggerations aside, the last time Matt Waldron had stepped onto the football field in a game that mattered came during his senior year at Oakfield-Alabama High in Oakfield, N.Y., a small town not far from Buffalo.

That would have been in 2004.

In the time span leading to the 2009 season opener against Alabama, he had taken classes at two major universities, dressed out for six games, been to four bowl games, contracted mono, kicked about 1,000 balls in practice, graduated and gotten engaged.

After all that, he finally won a kicking job at Tech and showed no signs of anxiety, drilling a 28-yard field goal and three extra points in serving as one of the bright spots in the Hokies’ 34-24 loss to the Tide. He won the job because he made every field goal in every scrimmage during spring practice and every field goal in every scrimmage this past August.

Justin Myer possessed the howitzer leg. Cody Journell had the glossy credentials. But the guy who looks like the 16-year-old next door won the job.

“I’m excited,” Waldron said. “It’s been a dream I’ve had forever. I’ve been patiently waiting and putting in hour after hour of work. It’s good to see it starting to come together.

“I felt I was consistent. I’m excited to follow [Brandon] Pace and [Judson] Dunlevy and [Dustin] Keys. They waited their turn, and I’m excited about my opportunity.”

Waldron certainly has paid his dues – literally.

Being an out-of-state student and not on scholarship, he was obligated to pay out-of-state tuition each of his years at Tech, and he had just signed on for a $15,000 loan for this upcoming year until he received a summons to Frank Beamer’s office in mid-August. Beamer offered him the scholarship, and Waldron quickly got on the phone, first calling his parents and then the bank.

“It was nice to call and say, ‘Hey, I don’t need that now,’” he said. “We can’t thank Coach Beamer enough for thinking of me and giving me a scholarship.”

Waldron, though, earned it, if for nothing else, his perseverance.

He started his career at Penn State as a preferred walk-on, which guaranteed him a spot on the roster (but not a scholarship) and he competed with Kevin Kelly for the kicking job. Joe Paterno liked Waldron, but gave the nod to Kelly, a scholarship kicker. Waldron still got to travel with the team as the No. 2 kicker.

At the end of the season, Waldron decided to depart, particularly after Kelly enjoyed a fine season, which culminated in a kick that beat Florida State in the Orange Bowl. He dispersed his tapes to numerous schools and Beamer offered him a chance.

“I didn’t want to sit there for four more years and wait behind him [Kelly],” Waldron said. “So I came down here and sat my first year and got on the team after that spring and have been doing it ever since.”

“It” was sitting, standing and waiting – not necessarily kicking, at least in games. He watched as first Pace, then Dunlevy and finally Keys all got their chances and made the most of them, as all were models of consistency.

Most importantly, though, he kept working. In addition to working in Mike Gentry’s strength and conditioning program, he developed his own routine, which included riding his bike up a steep hill near his place in Blacksburg and also running up that hill backward to develop leg strength and leg quickness. He continues to do this every other night.

He never sulked and never doubted his day would come.

“I never considered leaving here,” he said. “I found my future wife here, my fiancée, so we’ve enjoyed it. Even though I wasn’t playing, I was doing lots of things. I love Blacksburg. I love to hunt and fish and do other things. There are other things besides football to keep me here. I’ve always been committed here and I knew if I was patient enough, I’d get my opportunity. I’m glad it’s come around.”

Finally, he’s probably thinking.

But if you asked him, he’d also probably tell you it was worth the wait