As the 2016 Michigan State Spartans prepare to take the field this Saturday for the start of camp, there is no doubt that for the Spartans new names and players will emerge. For many that is what they love about college sports. Each year one group moves on, a new group comes in, and many will seize the opportunity to rise to the top.
One of those players hails from Rochester, MI. and is the son of two parents who served our great nation in the military and attended West Point. That pedigree on its own tells us that this young man deserves to be watched. A son of patriots tells us without a doubt that his pedigree is worth attention.
Matt Sokol is that young man. He came to MSU just over 220 pounds and what he lacked in experience and size, he made up for with work ethic. Sokol was a virtual Swiss Army Knife in high school. The young man had to play multiple positions to help his team, while not playing the position that he was projected at in college. His lack of experience at TE didn’t deter the Spartan coaches who were mesmerized by Sokol’s work ethic and character.
Brad Salem, the MSU QB coach and recruiting coordinator, told me on Sokol’s signing day in 2014, “You can’t help but love that kid. Everything about him on and off the field just screamed at us that he was a Michigan State guy. He is going to be special here.”
I recently told someone that Sokol is the son every dad wants and the husband every mom wants for their daughter. Clearly impacted by being raised by two selfless patriots (Kim and Dave), honor runs deep in his veins. For Sokol talking about himself is difficult. It is uncomfortable. It isn’t who he is. It is about others. For this youngster with who so much comes easy, vanity and pride are impossible and talking about himself in a positive ways is very difficult.
Sokol told me prior to arriving at MSU, “I am not angry that I didn’t play more tight end in high school. I played where my team needed me and obviously it worked out. For me, football is appealing because of the team aspect. You can’t play this game at your best being selfish, it is about team, really, that is what life is about. That is why I am so excited to be a Spartan.” Nothing has changed.
This all American young man is part aw shucks boy next door with a physique that would make the Incredible Hulk blush with envy. The small youngster has blossomed into a beast with muscles bulging in places that most of us have never seen on our own bodies, let along others. Still, he won’t take credit.
He told me, “Coach Mannie and the strength staff here, all of those guys have pushed me so much. All the extra lifts. The winter conditioning the summer lifts. It has just been a huge factor in my development as a player and I can’t thank those guys enough.”
He has impressed his head coach who recently told me, “He is a very good athlete, he is 260, 255. He is a very good athlete that can really run (and) jump and catches the ball well. He’s learned how to become a tight end. He has only played it the last two years. He was a quarterback in high school. He only played tight end in high school in seven on seven. Big guy, tough and smart and built to last.”
After a redshirt season in 2014 in which he showed flashes of talent that had many of his first team defensive players praising him for his scout team play, he played in all 14 games last year. Sokol didn’t disappoint.
Shilique Calhoun, the Oakland Raider, told me during Sokol’s his redshirt season in 2014, “Don’t forget now about my boy Sokol. He will get bigger and he is a beast. He can hit and run. I am excited to watch him.” High praise from one of his own teammates.
Heading into 2016 he sits third on a depth chart in which all three young men always play and he’s ready. Dantonio said of expectations on the Sokol this season, “I think we need to (See Sokol). He is a young player and those two guys (Price & Lyles) are seniors so he will be the third guy in there. Much like Paul Lang, Josiah, and Jamal played last year and prior to that we have always had three tight ends playing. Really always have. “
So for Sokol, who had one of the best springs of any Spartan, does the level of excitement rise higher knowing that 2016 is his time to shine? I asked him. “Yeah absolutely. It feels good, but I am not content. With that I think everyone in our (TE) room strives every day to just get better and better. We really push ourselves to excel and we have a very close group of guys in our room. I don’t think any of us is content. We want to get better. We constantly just want to get better.” Again notice the boy next door makes it about the team.
For Sokol, his team first mentality started when he was young. Raised by two people whose lives were formulated on service to our nation, he learned about team early in life. That is why when trying to talk about his success and the excitement of the coming season, he wanted to brag on his family.
“I can’t be more thankful. I am the luckiest son in the world. Really! They (Kim and Dave) have been so supportive of me in every aspect of my life. School, football, injuries all of it. They even came to my games when I wasn’t playing that much or at all. They’ve come to practice and all of the values that they have taught me, will be with me the rest of my life. And that is also about my brothers. Such amazing and supportive guys. You can’t say it any better than to say I am blessed. I appreciate and I love them very much.”
For Sokol that love of family is obvious in all he does. His character was birthed in a drop forge of a family that lived by example what sacrifice and team really means.
I have joked with Sokol that finding a wife will be difficult because who can live up to the standards of his absolutely amazing mother. He smiled and reflected. While football is his passion, he loves his family and his heart rests in his mother’s hands. He adores Kim.
“She is an incredible woman. I am so proud to call her my mom and a role model. Everything she has accomplished in her life. She is just an incredible woman.” I agree that she is, but don’t be fooled, she raised an amazing son.
Forget football, Sokol is one of the finest young people you will ever meet. Catching extra passes after practice, getting in extra lifts, helping teammates, you can always find this young man thinking about others. That character has led him to this point. This is now his time.
This was the scouting report we gave you on signing day in 2014 about Sokol. We ranked him as the 13th player in that Spartan class and let’s see if he lived up to the hype:
Matt Sokol ATH, Rochester, MI 6’5” 223# Sokol is as great of a young man as he is a football player. Such a high football IQ and he is so fun to watch play the game. A kid that loves the game, Sokol will NOT be outworked. He is all heart. A Coach’s take, “I think Sokol’s biggest enemy is that he had to play all over just to help his team win. He is a jack of all trades, but hasn’t been able to be a master of any. We loved his versatility and the last concern is his heart or character. Would have liked to have had him. You can’t have enough Sokol’s on your team and you want all you can add.” Weakness: Just like the coach said, it is that he has played everywhere. Setting in you can count on him making a name for himself. Playing H back right now, he just makes plays. I think he redshirts, but trust me when I say this weakness will be erased. He has the want to and fire. Dantonio says, “Matt Sokol was on campus as a tight end. Played quarterback for his high school team, but we found him in camps on the 7 on 7 tournaments that were around. Outstanding pass catcher. Big guy. He'll go about 240 here very, very shortly, so we're very, very excited about him. He brings an added dimension because I think he understands the offensive concepts relating to football on general.”
Josiah Price and Jamal Lyles deserve the love and respect that they are getting as the season approaches. Both great tight ends and both solid young men. Adding Sokol to the mix clearly gives the Spartans the best trio of tight ends in America.
That is good news for MSU WR Coach Terrence Samuel and his young wide outs. Samuel told Spartan Nation, “When you have very good tight ends in our offense it makes it easy and smooth to transition (Young) wide receivers in. They make plays and that draws attention to our tight ends, which is fine. Leave us alone out there with some corners by themselves. That should make some things easier and seamless for our wide receivers.”
One story of Sokol sums up his character. Exhausted after a brutal practice this spring, this monstrous Spartan star was approached by a little girl and boy. I stood by watching as sore, sweaty and exhausted Sokol got down on his knees asking both youngsters their names and visiting with them as if they were NFL general managers. When they were done he got up slowly, clearly spent.
The little girl walked away telling her family, “He’s so cute.” The little boy said, “He is so big and good, I have to get his jersey.” Mom and dad looked at me and said, “What a great person.” That is Sokol. He is proof that a good guy can finish first.
When your parents are your role models and your brothers are you bedrock, you would expect nothing else. Sokol is a great football player. You will see that evolve over the coming months, but while cheering on the green and white you can celebrate that he is also a better person.
This Swiss Army Knife is about to show the nation what he can do. You will be impressed. Just don’t expect him to be flashy and tell you. He’d rather talk about his coaches, his teammates, and his family. Don’t be surprised if his monstrous arms are wrapped around his momma while doing that.