Oct. 5, 2000
by Dan Bent
Forgive Matt McNew if he seems more than a little excited when he takes the football field on Saturdays. The fifth-year Irish kicker simply feels blessed to be able to continue to put his talents to good use.
McNew joined the football team this year after four years of service with the Irish men's soccer team. During that time, the Arlington, Texas, native played sweeper on defense and started 77 of the 80 games in which he played. His consistent play and booming kicks enabled him to earn all-BIG EAST honors as a senior when he helped the Irish record seven shutouts and a 1.2 goals-against average.
Following an outstanding soccer career at such a celebrated university, few thought McNew had anything left to prove. He, however, felt differently. Because his personal faith is so much stronger than his powerful right leg, he decided to use his fifth year of eligibility so he would not waste his God-given ability to blast a ball downfield.
"The main reason I played this year is because the Lord has blessed me with a strong leg and I just want to use it to glorify Him," says McNew.
As Irish fans are treated this year to kickoffs that sail into the end zone for touchbacks, they witness something that cornerback and former Notre Dame soccer player Shane Walton has known for a few years now.
"I don't really know too much about kicking, but I can tell you about soccer," says Walton.
"Matt has a really strong leg on him. He took almost all of our free kicks from about 20 yards out, just a shot on goal. That's really not too common, and when you have a guy with a leg like that, it always helps the team."
While McNew excelled at kicking a soccer ball, he admits that kicking a football is quite a different task.
"I do feel very comfortable out there, but it's a very tough responsibility," says McNew.
"There's such a fine sweet spot on that ball. If you hit it too low, you push it way up in the air without much distance. If you hit a little bit higher on the ball you kick a line drive. So, it takes a lot of skill and you have to put your whole body into each kick. But I'm feeling more confident in my ability and God has given me more wisdom and the ability to continue to get better."
Quick to site his faith as the reason behind his accomplishments on the field, McNew asserts that he has been blessed in many different ways, including marriage.
He married his wife, Christy, in June of 1999, and indicates that he has never experienced more joy in his life.
"Marriage is unbelievable," says McNew.
"I really can't put it into words. I married an awesome woman of God that keeps me accountable and just loves me to death. There's a woman there supporting me all the time, constantly praying for me and lifting me up. She would do anything for me, and that goes both ways. God has really blessed our relationship."
Although he does not feel different as the only married member of the football team, McNew thinks it took a little while for his teammates to get used to the idea.
"I think I shocked a few of the guys at first," says McNew.
"They may have not heard anything, and when they saw the ring on my finger and asked if I was married, I kind of blew them away. But it's really not any different. I just have a little bit more of a blessing than they do right now."
The life of a married student-athlete does not exactly allow for much free time. Yet, McNew, who majors in both accounting and computer applications, uses every bit of that down time to further strengthen his faith. He actively participates in Iron Strengthens Iron, a campus inter-denominational group that meets every Thursday night for Bible study and Christian fellowship.
He also has relied on his experience as a student-athlete at Notre Dame to reinforce his beliefs.
"When I came here, I was pretty on fire for God," says McNew.
"But I've met a lot of great men and women of God here. I had to face a little adversity my freshman year, but I met some brothers in Christ like (former football players) Hunter Smith and Jerry Wisne, and they really helped and encouraged me. My fire for the Lord is continuing to kindle and burn, and burn brighter. I am definitely a lot stronger and more founded in the Lord since I've been here."
Through all his experiences at Notre Dame, McNew has learned two things that guide his faith and his life.
"Without a doubt I think the most important thing is discipline and studying God's word every day," says McNew.
"The second thing is to understand and always know that He is in control. I just ask God to relieve me of all my pride and humble me and just use me, and when he uses me, I just give Him all the glory and all the praise."