By Trent Spinner,
NWMSU Media Relations/Communications Student Assistant
To the Northwest Missouri State University football program, former defensive lineman Matt Longacre was a legend in the making.
The moment he stepped on campus, coaches and opponents took quick notice of his skill set and championship demeanor. Every time an opposing player lined up against Longacre, the crowd knew one thing – he would inevitably end up with his arms around the ball carrier as he took him for a loss.
As everyone glimpses back into the past, it was those moments that led him to where he is today … the Super Bowl.
On Sunday in Atlanta, Longacre and his Los Angeles Rams will take on the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 53.
In the history of Northwest, one thing that has been a common occurrence is the link between Omaha and Maryville. From recruiting to students making their own paths down I-29 south, the trend has become evident in the Bearcat culture.
Longacre is another one to be part of those statistics as a product of Millard West High School. But that was the last time that Longacre played within the realm of realistic statistics.
As a player, Longacre wildly exceeded the expectations of everyone that recruited him. During his time at Northwest, he played at a level that made him a terror around the MIAA and helped propel the defense to bring home the 2013 national championship.
His accolades tell his game for him as he was named a first-team All-American his junior and senior years (2013 and 2014), while also claiming the honor of MIAA Defensive Player of the Year in 2014. The record books tell the rest of the story as he ranks second all-time in school history for sacks (30.5) and tackles-for-loss (47.0) behind Collin Bevins.
“I think it was in the back of his mind (making the NFL), but what was cool about Matt was that he never really looked too far into the future,” former Northwest safety and Longacre’s roommate Jared Fox said. “For a guy that was so talented and physically gifted, he kind of checked his ego at the door and never really cared to gain any notoriety, he just worked his backside off. You couple that mindset with the fact that he was super talented anyway, the results kind of speak for themselves.”
In Longacre’s senior year, NFL teams were starting to notice his disruptive presence and scouts were on their way to small-town Maryville to sneak a peak at the show. Just as Longacre was doing his job, the scouts were doing theirs pointing at the possible weaknesses in his arsenal.
No critique was bigger than that of his arm length, but then-defensive line coach Rich Wright (now head coach) did not buy into any of that. Not only did he believe in Longacre’s abilities to make an active roster, but knew he would be a contributor as well based on certain focal reasons.
“It’s his work ethic, it’s his intense desire to be the best,” Wright said. “I can remember when a lot of the scouts were coming through and I was getting interviewed quite a bit just about Matt. They kept talking to me about his arms were too short and I would just look at those guys and be like ‘I’ve done this for a long time and have had several guys play in the NFL, and if that guy makes your camp, he is not only going to make the team, but he’s going to play for you.’”
From April 30 to May 2, 2015, the NFL Draft was the main spectacle for all sports fans and the greatest triumph for all collegiate football players. As day three went on, two Division II players were given the chance to be drafted in the seventh round, but neither of them was Longacre. Instead, he was pushed to undrafted free agency limbo, hoping for that one call that would change his life.
Just six days later, his dream was becoming a reality as the St. Louis Rams called him up to set up a contract.
As it sits, only 4.4 percent of the NFL players played in Division II, including practice squad members. In terms of Longacre’s journey from Division II to an NFL player, he defied those less than marginal statistics to make his dream come true. But as for his journey, it was far from being over as he was waived on September 5, 2015.
His hopes of making the actual roster were in jeopardy, but his NFL dreams were still kicking as he signed on to be part of the practice squad the next day. It didn’t take long, though, before his NFL coaches saw what Northwest coaches saw and put him on the active roster on November 6 of that year. To him, no matter what would happen in his career, that was the best day by far.
“It’s one of those moments that’s hard to put into words,” Longacre said. “You just work and you know you can play, but you just have to wait for your time to get called up. Luckily, I got that call.
“I remember my first call with my parents, I let them know I got bumped up and was going to actually play. We played Minnesota on that Sunday, so they were rushing to get tickets and hotels so they could come up and see me play in my first game.”
Going from a smaller Division II school to the NFL, Longacre had to adjust to the speed of the game. That wasn’t the only thing he had to adjust to, though, as he had always been a Midwesterner and the Rams were one season away from returning to Los Angeles.
Living his whole life in Nebraska and Missouri didn’t exactly prepare him for living on the west coast, but just as he had done his entire career, he adjusted to it.
“At first I was hesitant, I’m a Midwest guy and I had never really been to LA or the west coast,” Longacre said. “I got out here and I actually love it. We have a good fan base, good facilities and good guys, so the move has been good for me.”
Longacre’s first two years in the league were not exactly full of playing time, but he kept up his work ethic until he got his chance. That chance to succeed came in 2017, and without skipping a beat, he wowed the crowd just like he was back on campus at Northwest, dawning the green and white. He set career highs with 5.5 sacks and a forced fumble on the season.
His journey still was far from over as injuries started to plague him for the first time in his NFL career.
“It’s been a long journey, to say the least, I’m still feeling a little bit of it,” Longacre said. “For me, out of any season I’ve had, it has been a grind for me just trying to stay healthy.”
Though injuries hurt his progressions going into this season, he was given the chance to be the opening day will linebacker. In that first game, the Rams set the tone for the remainder of the season as they dominated on the forefront from both sides of the ball in a 33-13 victory over the Oakland Raiders.
With the help of a lateral movement offensive structure, a blistering pass attack and one of the most feared defensive lines in the NFL, the Rams finished the regular season 13-3. After two shootouts, the Rams are back in the Super Bowl after an 18-year absence.
Longacre will not be the only person at Mercedes Benz Stadium with Northwest football ties as coach Wright plans to make the trip down for the game. This will be Wright’s second time visiting a former player playing in the Super Bowl as he made the trip to Indianapolis for former Bearcat David Tollefson (New York Giants).
“I have had two of my position players now, not only play in the NFL, but compete in the Super Bowl,” Wright said. “For a kid that grew up his whole life wanting to coach football or play football professionally, it’s pretty awesome to watch guys you worked with and developed, watch them go on and have a pro career and feel like you had a role in it.”
Longacre cannot help but note how surreal the experience to play in the Super Bowl is. Regardless of the moments, this is the type of season he knows he can treasure.
“It’s been awesome just being able to contribute to the team early on, and now my role has been a little reduced, but you’re still part of it and anything you can do to help this team win you’ll do,” Longacre said. “It’s been awesome just going with the highs and the lows and going out there and helping the team win.”
Kickoff for Sunday is set for 5:30 pm at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Tune in to CBS and to catch a Bearcat playing at the highest level of professional football, striving for the Lombardi Trophy.