Matt Rooney’s dream of playing university football was almost sacked by his appetite for potato chips, cookies and other high-fat treats. By the end of Grade 11, the Carlisle resident was tipping the scales at 325 pounds, making him too heavy to be considered for a university team even though he was a talented high school player.
While some football players weigh well over 300 pounds, they’re also typically very tall. Toronto Argonaut offensive linesman Matt Sewell, for example, is listed on his team’s roster as 6-feet-7 and 322 pounds. Rooney, who is 6-feet-tall, didn’t have the height to support his weight.
Refusing to give up his dream of playing university ball, Rooney made lifestyle changes that included giving up junk food, hiring a personal trainer and working out regularly at the Flamborough Family YMCA.
“I knew that something had to change,” said Rooney. “I had to decide whether to stop playing football or do the work needed to get in shape.”
Rooney visited the YMCA most mornings for a 30 to 40 minute cardio workout using stair climbing or elliptical machines. He also stretched and built strength using free weights and weight machines. In addition to Y workouts, he visited a personal trainer at a home gym.
By the end of high school Rooney had stabilized at 225 pounds and landed what looked like an opportunity to play for the University of Western Ontario’s football team. But a last-minute cut meant he spent the school year living at home instead, working in retail and landscaping jobs.
Losing the opportunity to play university ball was a huge disappointment but Rooney didn’t give up.
“I would tell anyone in that situation to just stay focused on their goal and keep going,” said Rooney, who continued working out during his year at home. This past September he was accepted to Wilfrid Laurier University where he’s a linebacker for the school’s Golden Hawks.
“Giving up would have been the worst regret of my life,” said Rooney, 20, who’s studying political science. He continues to work out at the YMCA when he’s home for visits. And he gets plenty of exercise during the school year, thanks to a regimented team schedule. Team members start their day at 6 a.m. with a 60 to 90 minute workout, followed by the day’s classes. The team meets again from 4 to 8 p.m. for strategy sessions and practice.
His advice to others who face disappointments as they pursue their dreams? “Keep your head up and don’t get down on yourself.”
That’s great advice, says Genevieve Hladysh, senior regional manager with the YMCA of Hamilton/Burlington/Brantford.
“It’s common for people to hit bumps in the road when it comes to achieving their fitness goals,” says Hladysh. “Try getting back on track as quickly as possible and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Fitness centres like the YMCA have staff with the expertise to help you achieve your goals.”