There aren’t many players capable of scoring a touchdown one of the three ways possible on offense.
Matthew Gardner has done all three this season for St. Thomas More, throwing for a touchdown, running for a touchdown and catching a touchdown pass.
And now he’s playing defense.
“Well we lost James Brauns in the first Teurlings game and had to move Quentin Olivier, who was playing free safety, down to outside linebacker and needed someone to fill in,” Hightower said. “Gardner stepped up and filled that roll for us.”
Gardner played as a deep free safety in the center of the field for the Cougars in the semifinal game and performed well in his role after only appearing in two other games on defense prior to the semifinal.
But that’s something the St. Thomas More coaches have grown accustomed to with him.
Sitting behind fellow senior Will Bellamy, Gardner wasn’t seeing a lot of time at quarterback so the Cougars moved him to receiver to try and take advantage of the 6-foot-4 body and impressive athleticism.
Gardner’s intelligence helps him learn the new positions as well, as he finished as a member of the Academic All-State team after earning a 3.5 GPA or higher.
“He’s a sharp kid, he’s a scholar athlete,” Hightower said. “You don’t get any better qualities than that.”
Some of that positional flexibility may come from his impressive football genes too, though.
Gardner’s grandfather, Jack, for the 1945 Cathedral state championship team that won the state championship after beating Destrehan 28-6.
Matthew accounted for 588 total yards and six touchdowns of offense this season, accounting for at least one 20-plus yard gain in each offensive category on the season.
After Bellamy won the starting job, Gardner could have sulked and given up on the team — or even transferred to another school, which seems to be more and more common in today’s prep sports climate — but instead embraced his role as a team leader and helped the Cougars get to Superdome for the first time.
“He’s a good kid and definitely one of our team leaders,” Hightower said. “Very unselfish. He wants to do whatever it takes to help us win.”
Hightower said the unselfish trait is something that is common throughout the Cougars’ roster, with many players making personal sacrifices for the good of the team.
With several injuries throughout both offense and defense, players have had to get comfortable in positions they’ve never played in before.
And without that unselfishness and flexibility the Cougars might not be in the same position that they are in at this point in the season.
“We’ve asked a lot of guys to move to a different side of the ball or move to a different position and they have accepted the challenge readily,” Hightower said. “I would say that is one of the strengths of this team. We’ve had a number of injuries that have made those moves necessary.
“A lesser quality team I think would have folded after facing some of the hurdles we’ve had to overcome. But I think our guys have been unselfish and have done whatever they could to to help the team win.”