Dodge discusses life in NFL|Former ECU star has seen some highs and lows

Published 3:06 pm Sunday, December 26, 2010

By By EDWIN MODLIN II,, Staff Writer
Former East Carolina University football star punter, Matt Dodge, was drafted by the New York Giants earlier this year and said, “It has been one great experience so far.”
That is, until he botched a punt last Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles when he failed to kick the ball out of bounds with 14 seconds left in the game and allowed DeSean Jackson to return for the game-winning touchdown.
Dodge said he was extremely frustrated with his final performance in the team’s 38-31 loss to the the rival Eagles.
“I felt like I had a good game all game, putting it where I wanted to, and sometimes you try so hard to do something, like getting it out of bounds, and you just lose your head,” Dodge said. “And that’s kind of what happened.”
Dodge added he tried to get the ball off and out of bounds quickly, and not, “hit a line drive,” as he said.
“I had plenty of time, I just did not execute good,” Dodge said. “There’s nothing more you can say. You can’t give the most explosive returner in the game a line drive in a situation like that.”
Dodge said he can’t blame anyone but himself for the loss in a situation like that, even if several professional football players and coaches said the snap was high, and the defense gave up three scores in the last six minutes.
“I just have to get better,” Dodge said. “When you need to hit something good, you can hit good punts all game, but when it comes down to it, you just have to learn to calm your nerves and do what you’re supposed to do. There’s some things I did that I’m happy with and I’ll definitely try and take and learn from.”
On being drafted, Dodge said he never thought in his wildest dreams that he would be picked up by the New York Giants, “One of the finest and most respected franchises in all of sports,” he said. “It has been quite an experience. It’s been a wonderful experience so far and one I want to prolong for many years to come.”
Though he said it would not be accurate to say he was a huge spirited leader at ECU, as his position as a punter is one where taking the path of being seen and performing well is more important than being heard, he attributes his senior year at ECU as one of the main things that prepared him for the N.Y. Giants.
“That being said, my drive to win and succeed is just as strong now as it was when I played recreation basketball at the Rec. Center in Morehead City, or playing roller hockey as a youth at Sportsworld,” he said. “It’s awesome playing in front of such a huge audience, not just our immediate fans at the stadium but also the eyes around the country tuning in.
“Playing on a team as tight knit and together as this team has taught me one thing,” Dodge said. “You play the game for your teammates, coaches and for yourself. We play for each other, knowing that if we give everything we got that each man will have each others backs.”
Dodge compares playing in the NFL to that of a pyramid. In high school, he said, football was played at a certain level and speed. The one’s lucky enough went on to play college ball. And again, fewer, the top one-percent, as he says, are lucky still to go on and play in the NFL.
“Imagine the speed,” he said. “Everyone here has accolades, athleticism and, most importantly, character. It’s an all-star team you line up against each and every week. So I feel it’s safe to say everything is a notch above playing in the NFL.”
According to Dodge, playing against his former Pirate teammate – and Belhaven local hometown hero, Green Bay Packer C.J. Wilson – will be a great as the two powerhouse teams collide in today in Green Bay.
Dodge said there is always that camaraderie between old friends, but at the end of the day their jobs are to win and do the best they can.
“But honestly, the first thing I’m going to think about prior to playing against the Packers is, ‘Gahlee, it’s going to be freezing!’” Dodge said jokingly. “It truly will be the coldest Christmas of my young life. But aside from that, I am extremely excited to see my former teammates C.J. and Jay (Jay Ross of ECU is on the practice squad in Green Bay).”
Dodge attributes his faith in God as his greatest strength, on and off the field.
“I feel like God has truly gifted me with an incredible amount of leg strength,” he said. “For some reason, I’ve always been able to kick stuff pretty far, so that is definitely one of my strengths.”
As Dodge has a tremendous drive to succeed and to be the best punter he can possibly be, he said off the field he is a very laid back guy who enjoys spending time with his family and friends.
“I am definitely a gym rat and enjoy doing anything that is physical,” he said. “I feel I am a very loyal friend and hope that I am viewed as someone people can count on. I serve a very real God and I’m trying my best to please him everyday.”
One of the toughest challenges Dodge faced when getting drafted by the Giants was the initial shock and excitement he had, because it didn’t go away for quite a while.
“The realization that I was going to be so far from everything I was familiar with for the last 22 years was the next thing I had to come to grips with,” he said. “My brother just had his first child and sadly I’ve been away from her for a good portion of her young life. That’s been tough.”
However, Dodge said, the most difficult part about being in the NFL is getting used to playing a sport for a living.
“The amount of pressure that goes with playing in the NFL is unlike anything I’ve ever felt,” he said. “And the fact that any given day your locker could be cleared and later filled with an eager substitute.”
Dodge said it is that kind of mentality and those thoughts that keep him hungry, driven and demanding his best.
Dodge said having Eli Manning as his quarterback is just plain “awesome.”
“Eli’s a great leader and is someone I have grown to admire and respect more and more every day,” he said. “He is not the most vocal leader as some in this league are, yet his drive and work ethic are something that are hard to miss.”
Dodge added that Manning is one of the first to get there, and is always one of the last to leave.
“The amount of time he spends preparing for our opponents would drive most normal people to insanity, yet it is something he willingly does day in and day out to help us win,” he said. “It has truly been a treat to be on the same team as him.”
Although Dodge is loving the life in New Jersey, he said he does miss many things about eastern North Carolina.
“I miss all the great friendships I developed, the great fans we had, and the overall atmosphere of living in a smaller southern town,” Dodge said. “I miss being close to home, everything about Pirate Nation and my former teammates. I could literally go on and on about what I miss about living and growing up in eastern North Carolina, yet, fortunately I could also make quite an impressive list of things I absolutely love about living up here. I’ve been truly blessed.”
As the NY Giants are currently 9-5, Dodge said this season is one that is very alive and well as they work extremely hard to get to where they want to be.
“My performance so far this season has been one with incredible highs, and a few lows here and there,” he said. “To say I am completely satisfied and thrilled with how I’ve done so far would be false. I will never be completely satisfied. I always feel I can do better, do more and produce better. I am extremely proud and humbled the way the guys on my team have rallied around me when things don’t go as well as I’d like, and the way they encourage me because they know the potential I have.”
Dodge said when the game is on the line he maintains a positive attitude by knowing he has prepared his entire career for moments when the team turns to him.
“I punt a football for a living,” he said. “Most would say it’s not a difficult job, but I can assure you it is one that comes with a lot of pressure to perform well.”
He added that he gets excited at the thought of going out and doing what God has blessed him to do.
“There is no better feeling than to play at the highest stage and perform at the highest level,” he said. “The realization that, ‘Hey, I’m here for a reason and that I can play with the best of them,’ is one that is extremely satisfying and motivating.”
Although Dodge said he is excited to play with the best of the best, what keeps him grounded and happy off the field is his foremost faith in Jesus Christ and his family and friends.
“I feel without his guidance, and without the people He has placed in my life, I certainly wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing,” he said. “Secondly, my family plays an extremely vital role in my development and my make-up.”
Dodge said he is very fortunate and thoroughly enjoys speaking to his family every day and spending as much time as possible with them.
“We are all very close and all truly love to be around each other,” he said. “I literally call my mom every day and check in on the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of Morehead City, and that definitely helps take my mind off of the craziness I may be experiencing.
“I’m also very fortunate to have been blessed with many great friends and people I can pick up the phone and call at any time with any problem. It’s awesome to know that you have many people in your corner who are pulling for you every day.”
As being a professional football player is his dream job, Dodge said if he were not playing in the NFL he would have his own business, as he has a degree in Construction Management and a minor in Business.
“I’m definitely a gym rat and am extremely happy when I am around one,” he said. “I love the fitness industry and hope to one day break over into it, whether it be to open a gym, start a supplement company, or go around speaking to youths about the importance of their physical well-being.”
Dodge said his life is pretty much an open book and that his friends and family know pretty much everything about him.
“I don’t make model airplanes in my apartment while no one is watching or anything like that. But being in New Jersey, I have recently started making techno beats on my computer. That’s definitely something I hope people in eastern North Carolina don’t find out about. Well … until now, anyway,” he said with a laugh.
“Honestly though, I would say the fact that I am the cheapest person on the planet could be one but if you ask any friend of mine.”
Dodge did say one thing he would really love is to have been able to witness Jesus Christ and see the miraculous things he has done.
“Yet, there are two people I wish I could have gotten a chance to meet,” he said. “My grandparents on my mother’s side. Both of them died prior to my birth and I’ve often thought about what it would be like with them here.
“My mother is truly someone I care for dearly and admire every day. I wish I could have met the people responsible for her (as well as her sisters and brother) and just had a chance to learn from them and have them around. That would be pretty sweet if they were still here.”