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Marine vet becomes college football player at 34

A football. (Dreamstime/TNS)
September 06, 2023

Matt Ganyard, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, is living out his dream as a kicker for the University of Virginia’s college football team.

The 34-year-old student at the University of Virginia’s School of Business graduated from the university with a bachelor’s degree in history in 2011 before serving in the United States Marine Corps for over a decade as a Cobra helicopter pilot, according to UVA Today.

After serving in the Marine Corps, Ganyard decided to return to the University of Virginia to complete his MBA degree. Sixteen years after he first attempted to make the Virginia Cavaliers football team, the Marine veteran is getting a second chance as a kicker.

Celebrating the realization of his dream on X, formerly Twitter, Ganyard wrote, “Sixteen years later, the dream lives on… I’m truly humbled to announce that at 34 years young, I’m officially a member of the @UVAFootball team. Thank you to @Coach_TElliott @Coach_Gaither @drewmeyer5 @jsperos for this incredible opportunity. Now, it’s time to get to work.”

Spots Center featured the Marine veteran on Instagram, highlighting the fact that while Ganyard never before played in an “organized football game,” the University of Virginia kicker is “making a name for himself” this year.

Shannon McNatt, one of Ganyard’s classmates, described his journey as “a Cinderella story.” According to UVA Today, McNatt designed a t-shirt with the words “I KNOW THE KICKER” in bold print with Ganyard’s name and jersey number on the back. Over 50 shirts were sold prior to the college’s first football game of the season.

“I know it’s caught fire not only in our class,” she said, “but some friends and family of Matt have bought them, too. Everyone’s just so proud of him.”

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In 2009, during the second semester of his second year, Ganyard attempted to make the football team as a kicker; however, he received an email rejection letter despite making all nine of his field goal attempts, according to UVA Today.

After returning to the college last fall, the University of Virginia was able to submit a successful appeal to the NCAA for Ganyard to be eligible for this year’s football season.

“There’s a lot of little points that make me proud about this story,” the Marine veteran said. “Having never played and now making it as the old guy is great. But for me, I’m just most proud of the persistence. … I have no hard feelings that I didn’t make [the team] before, because it’s exactly how my story was supposed to be written.”