Matt Stuart has seen a lot of footballs flying through the air in between the lines at Blue Pony Stadium. And the senior wide receiver for the MSU-Northern Lights has brought down plenty of those balls as well.
And Stuart’s overtime game-winning touchdown catch two weeks ago against UM-Western was as memorable as it gets, but he’s hoping it won’t be his last. Stuart has one last game at Blue Pony Stadium, Saturday against the Eastern Oregon Mountaineers, and, like he’s always done for the Lights, he’ll try to go out by making an impact on his team.
“Stewie (Stuart) has always been a real consistent player for us,” MSU-N head coach Mark Samson said. “He’s a hard worker, and he’s developed into a very good receiver. He’s a smart kid and he just does everything right, in practice, in games and that’s what makes him so good. You just really appreciate being able to coach players like him.”
Stuart's game-winning catch against the Bulldogs earlier this season is just part of a great story, and a legacy he'll leave for years to come at Northern.
Stuart came to Northern out of Cut Bank, and while not expected, had an impact on the Lights right away. He played receiver as a true freshman as Northern was making a run to its only NAIA playoff berth back in 2006. Stuart was called into duty as junior receiver Nick Bodeman suffered injuries, and after that, the Lights couldn't keep Stuart off the field, as he played the rest of that season, and started for three more.
"I think it was big for my progression as a receiver, and as a football player to play on the 2006 team," Stuart said. "Playing as a true freshman, getting to experience being on a winning team like that, it was big for me.
"From there, I just kept progressing, learning how to play the receiver position," he added. "I've gotten to play with a lot of different quarterbacks, learn how each one of them does things, and in the end, I feel really good about what I've been able to accomplish during my time here."
And what Stuart has accomplished is nothing short of remarkable. After taking 2007 off from football, Stuart returned to the Lights in 2008 and has been a go-to receiver ever since. And while he won't finish at the top of the Northern list in total catches, and inexplicably, he's yet to be recognized by the league's coaches as an all-conference standout, though highly deserving, he will wrap up a career at MSU-N which will speak volumes for years to come. Stuart's contributions to Northern's program are immeasurable. He's not only been a great receiver, leading the Frontier in yards-per-catch two years in a row, as well as total receiving touchdowns per game last season, he's also been an all-conference punt returner, an outstanding special team's player and a Lights' captain.
In four years on the field, Stuart has accomplished more than a player can dream of, and while he's having a tremendous senior season, averaging a whopping 22.3 yards per catch, which leads the NAIA, while hauling in 25 balls for 484 yards and six TD's, he's doing even more for the Lights. He's helping to build a lasting legacy of quality receivers at MSU-N.
"I feel really good about the guys that will be here after me," Stuart said. "We have a great group of young receivers, who this season, have been able to learn from myself and Kerch (Kyle Kercher). I think through us, they've learned how to work hard and learned how you're supposed to do things in this program, and I feel really good about the fact that group os already very talented and their only going to get better."
And taking young players under his wing his something a team captain, a program guy does, and Stuart is certainly both of those.
Stuart has become synonymous with Northern football on and off the field. He's well liked and well respected by his teammates and his Northern peers and has been a staple on campus for years now.
And Samson said, he and the other seniors, while making a smaller than usual class, will sorely be missed.
"The best thing I can say about all of our seniors this year is just what great people they are," Samson said. "This group is hard-working and dedicated and they've all become very good football players. But they are also good students and even better people on and off the football field. And to a coach, that's as important as anything. And Matt is a guy who has really made an important contribution to our program."
And Stuart isn't quite done yet. While Northern has three games left in what's turning out to be a dramatic season, this Saturday against Eastern Oregon will be the final time Stuart gets to fly down the sidelines or across the middle on one of his perfect post routes fans at Blue Pony Stadium have grown accustomed to seeing him run over the years.
And while it's always tough to say goodbye, Stuart is happy and proud of the career he's put together at MSU-N.
"One last time playing at home," Stuart said. "It's amazing when you think about it because it all happens so fast.
"My career here has been great though," he added. "We've had or ups and downs over the years, but it's been a fun time playing here, and a great experience. It's been great playing for coach Samson because I just respect him so much. He's been great to me and everybody here really has. It's been a lot of fun and a great four years for me. Football at Northern has been an important part of my life, and a part I'm definitely going to miss when it's all over."
Stuart and the rest of the MSU-N seniors will be honored before the start of Saturday's game between the Lights and Mountaineers.