Matt Falcon knew it was a different day when he woke up at 5:30 this morning.
By 7:30, he was at Southfield High School, 1½ hours before the Blue Jays were scheduled to report for the first day of practice.
His senior year was starting, and the running back wanted to get ready. So he slipped on his headphones and listened to rappers Chief Keef and Drake.
“I was just getting myself in the zone, getting ready to come out here and work hard,” Falcon said after Southfield concluded its morning session of the two practices.
The mental game is important to Falcon, who committed to Michigan in April, taking the burden off his season.
Last season, his numbers were impressive, with 1,100 all-purpose yards on just 70 touches in just six games, returning from a knee injury.
“Every player, when things don’t go their way, they look to see what could have happened and did or how next year is going to turn out,” he said. “Of course I’m thinking about it.”
In case his mind wanders, he’s made sure to remind himself of the goals at every turn.
“It’s all over the house,” Falcon said. “It’s on little note cards. On the door, when I walk into my room, in the refrigerator – I’m in there a lot – outside on my weight bench and in the bathroom. Most of the places I go a lot.”
Each card has a short motivational speech: “I feel like I’m the best player in the state, I feel like I’m the No. 1 player in the country and I’ve got to do these three things every day to show my team that I’m a leader.”
Physically in the off-season, Falcon has proven that, muscling up to 220 pounds, but still retaining his 4.4 speed.
“Matt’s a big kid, he’s got the measurable you’d want to see in a professional athlete so he’s always trying to get used to his body,” Southfield coach Tim Conley said. “You see him out there, he’s such a big strider.”
On Monday, Falcon wore a brace on his left knee, just as he did last year returning from injury, but didn’t want to discuss whether it will stay.
Conley figured it may be more mental as Falcon said he felt great physically.
Given the way he was used last year, with Southfield moving Falcon around the field from tailback to slot receiver, he spent significant time this summer working on his pass-catching skills as he has “hands like a receiver and can run routes like a receiver.”
With a bevy of other tailbacks now on the roster, Falcon will be able to help all over, because “he’s too dangerous of a match-up,” to confine him, Conley said.
Though not vocal by nature off the field, Falcon keeps pounding between the lines with his body and his voice.
Southfield has a true freshman quarterback in Sam Johnson III, already a high-rising prospect even entering high school and, with the recent death of junior Darius Cooley on July 20, the Blue Jays have become closer, looking to their upperclassmen for leadership.
Falcon is able to provide that without worrying about a looming college decision. He visited U-M for the Barbecue at the Big House recruiting event two weeks ago, and it reinforced his decision to attend.
“It does feel like home – that’s why I chose to go there,” he said. “I’ll be really excited when the time comes but, right now, it’s all about the Blue Jays.”
Part of the connection is a growing bond with U-M running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley, who he respects.
“He’s more of a hands-on coach,” Falcon said. “He doesn’t just sit back and talk. He’ll get out there and show you. That’s kind of what I need when I’m trying to learn new things.”
Falcon has a similar build to Wheatley during his high school days at Dearborn Heights Robichaud, and he’s seen clips of Wheatley, one of the state’s all-time great players. But he’s not interested in a comparison or the U-M talk right now.
Falcon is zeroing in on the season-opening showdown, Aug. 29 against Detroit Cass Tech. He knows eyes will be on him in the spotlight game.
“I can’t wait,” he said. “It’s going to be a great game. It’s going to be an emotional game… We’re all going to be playing for Darius. We’re going to leave everything out on the field. That first game is going to be something special to watch.”
Another day where he probably won’t need the alarm clock.
Contact Mark Snyder: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mark__snyder.