Provo • Fifth-year senior Matt Hadley says there are times when he has to think twice about which position he is playing before he runs out on the practice field.
That happens when you have played six different positions in a BYU football career that began in 2012.
“Or maybe I’m just getting old,” said the former missionary, who will turn 25 in October. “Yeah, every once in a while I have to do a little mental check to make sure I am in the right spot.”
Thanks to receiving a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA, Hadley is back with the team and participating in his fifth preseason training camp, this time as a running back. It was touch-and-go with the NCAA last spring when Hadley applied for the waiver, but he did what he could in spring camp without knowing how the ruling would go.
“I’m back,” he said last week, only slightly exaggerating. “I’ve been here for like a decade now.”
Seriously, Hadley is “extremely grateful that it happened, because a lot of people put in a lot of hard work for me to be able to come back, and so I am thankful for all of them.”
He’s also appreciative of BYU’s medical and training staff for helping him return from a fractured kneecap that cut short his would-be senior season.
“After the [paperwork] submission to the NCAA and as the months were kind of going on, it was tough to know what was going on and I felt like, ‘aw, man, there is a good chance I might not get this,’ ” he said.
Hadley isn’t familiar with any athlete who has returned from a fractured kneecap, but he is giving it a try. Doctors took out a piece of the broken bone during surgery, then reattached his patellar tendon to his kneecap. He considers himself fully recovered, although there is a “little bit” of discomfort and he does certain exercises to continue to strengthen it.
“He’s a tough kid and he’s handled it really well,” said former safeties coach Ed Lamb, who is now working with the linebackers.
Even more amazing is Hadley played four games with a fractured kneecap. He sustained the injury in practice prior to the LSU game, banging knees with a teammate who came out of it unscathed.
“It was a pretty painful experience,” he said. “I think back on it, and yeah, it would shake me up a little bit, for sure.”
Finally, the pain became too much, and doctors performed the surgery. Most believed the former record-setting running back had played his last down for the Cougars. BYU’s Jack-of-all-trades never gave up, though.
“I just felt like I still had something to give to this program,” he said last spring. “This is an amazing coaching staff, and an amazing group of guys. It is a privilege to be able to come back and work with them again and make the most out of this season.”
That’s true even if it means going back to running back, which is suddenly a crowded position at BYU because former safety Tanner Jacobson and former quarterback Beau Hoge are also in the running backs room in camp.
Hadley rushed for 6,881 yards and a Washington state-record 746 points in high school, but has yet to carry the ball from scrimmage at BYU. He has returned a dozen or so kickoffs, and is in the running for kick and punt return duties this season.
“I played [running back] in high school,” he said. “It has been awhile. But the coaches have been super encouraging and all the running backs have helped me. I am trying to find that rhythm again that I might have had one day in the past.”
Hadley is listed as an RB/LB on BYU’s preseason roster, so the possibility exists he could return to defense, where he has played cornerback, safety and linebacker. He’s made 55 tackles on that side of the ball.
Lamb said he would welcome Hadley back in a heartbeat, but for now he’s needed at running back.
“The best way to characterize it right now is he is 100 percent on offense and fighting for the starting position and a significant role there,” Lamb said. “If at any time it looked like he was not going to be a significant contributor at running back, then we want to have him back on defense as quickly as possible.”
Lamb has eight seniors in his linebacking corps, but Morgan Unga and Hirkley Latu are recovering from injuries and have yet to participate in camp and another linebacker, Johnny “Ku-J” Tapusoa, has moved to fullback. Freshman Alex Miskela won’t join the program until January.
Hadley says he will play where he’s needed most. He doesn’t even have to think twice about that.
Matt Hadley is BYU’s Jack-of-all trades
2012 • Played in seven games as a freshman cornerback
2013-14 • Served a church mission to Brazil
2015 • Played in 11 games and started in two at safety as a sophomore
2016 • Returned seven kickoffs kicks and played in all 13 games at safety as a junior
2017 • Gave running back a try in spring camp, but was moved back to safety in preseason camp
2017 • Moved to linebacker in preseason camp and appeared in five games before season-ending injury
2018 • Received a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA and is playing running back in preseason camp