October 22, 2009

Wickert Overcomes Setbacks to Continue Football Career

After missing most of his junior and senior seasons in high school, there was little doubt in Matt Wickert’s mind that he still wanted to play football.

That determination landed the former Scotland County standout at Wartburg College. The selective four-year liberal arts college of the Lutheran Church is located in Waverly, Iowa, about four hours north of Memphis.

“Football was probably the main factor for choosing Wartburg,” said Wickert. “I still wanted to play and their football program was one of the best around.”

After breaking his collarbone in pre-season practice, Wickert missed all but the final three games of the 2005 season. He still earned honorable mention all conference honors after racking up six touchdowns on just 10 receptions for a total of 185 yards on the Tigers three district contests.

His senior season was even worse. Wickert suffered a broken ankle in the season-opener, the very first time he touched the ball against Salisbury.

“I felt horrible after getting hurt both seasons but I had a lot of support from everybody, family and friends,” Wickert said. “I never thought about giving up football during high school. After basketball season I felt fine physically, so I still felt I wanted to play football.”

He spent his freshman season at Wartburg participating at the junior varsity level, and showed enough promise to earn a promotion heading into his second season.

Sitting second on the depth chart at wide receiver didn’t get Matt on the field too much on offense. He played on special teams however, and that’s where it happened again.

Wickert suffered a serious knee injury on a kick return against Simpson College, with just three games left in the year. The resulting surgery put his football future in doubt.

“When that happened I didn’t think there was any chance of coming back,” said Wickert. Not only was I unsure if I could take it mentally to come back from another injury, but once again I would be that much more behind physically.”

But the training staff thought otherwise, and encouraged Wickert to undergo the surgery and ensuing rehabilitation.

Wickert underwent knee surgery in December 2008, missing the entire off-season rehabbing the knee.

“The coaches and players were really supportive and that helped make my decision to keep playing,” Wickert said.

Matt also knew that the teams two top receivers had graduated, meaning the opportunity was there to get back on the field.

“Heading into this season I expected to get thrown into a rotation with three other receivers,” he said. “Camp got off to a slow start just because I hadn’t played forever and my knee and hamstrings were hurting.”

Despite the pain and uncertainty, Wickert battled through camp and found himself splitting time with the team’s rotation of three other receivers.

“We are all juniors and one sophomore so none of us have a lot a playing experience,” Wickert said. “I hope I can just be a possession wide receiver and make plays within the offense to help contribute.”

But after rehabilitating the surgically repaired knee, Wickert not only has made it back onto the field this season, he is one of the Knights leading pass catchers. Through six games the junior leads Wartburg receivers with 298 yards and is second on the squad with 23 catches, just one shy of the team lead.

“Matt is one of our most intelligent players who also has a great work ethic,” said Wartburg head coach Rick Willis. “He is certainly a leader within his position group and has developed into our most consistent and dependable wide receiver.”

Wickert has racked up the totals despite getting off to a slow start, catching a total of just three passes in the first three games.

Week four of Wartburg’s season was a coming out party of sorts for Wickert. He caught a career-high 11 passes for 121 yards in a 28-9 win over Loras College.

Over the next two games, he continued to be one of quarterback Nick Yordi’s favorite targets.

He had four grabs for 41 yards against Buena Vista before hauling in his first touchdown of the season last weekend. Wickert had a team-high five receptions for 97 yards in the 35-21 Iowa Conference loss to Coe College of Cedar Rapids.

The Knights are now 3-3 overall and 2-2 in the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference with four contests remaining on the schedule.

“We’re coming off of two bad loses but hopefully we can win out to finish 7-3,” said Wickert.

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