Editor’s note: This is the fourth installment in a six-part series of stories on DeKalb County Sports Hall of Fame scholarship winners. The organization awarded six $1,000 scholarships to DeKalb County senior student-athletes. The six seniors will be honored during the induction ceremony of the DeKalb County Sports Hall of Fame’s 2020 class at 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 29 at DeKalb County Schools Coliseum in Rainsville. In Part 4, The Times-Journal features Fort Payne’s Matthew Shaddix.
FORT PAYNE — Matthew Shaddix was playing his first year of football at age 5. He vividly remembered being on the receiving end of a halfback toss, finding space and churning his little legs in a race to the end zone.
Shaddix was wheezing by the time he reached the 10-yard-line in what amounted to about an 80-yard run. He fell at the 5-yard line, got up and walked to the sideline crying because he was so winded.
“I remember that more than anything. It’s just so funny thinking back on it,” Shaddix said.
Being part of a family of athletes, the moments of stress, of pain, Shaddix has felt throughout his athletic career didn’t deter him from blossoming into another one of Fort Payne High School’s great athletes. The moments helped him develop a reputation for being tough, a leader and an athlete every coach wants on their team.
“He was tough, unselfish and smart. A coach’s dream,” Fort Payne football coach Chris Elmore said of the senior bound for Jacksonville State University this fall.
Shaddix’s greatness on the field was undeniable. As a four-year starter for the varsity football team he was a three-time all-region wide receiver and a team captain.
As a senior, he helped the program advance to the second round of the state playoffs for the first time since 2011. He led the team in receiving with 502 yards on 34 catches with seven touchdowns. He finished with 530 yards rushing on 67 attempts (7.9 yards per carry average) with six TDs, and returned five kicks for 149 yards (29.8 average).
He did a little bit of everything and did it well.
“(Shaddix) could have easily been our full-time (quarterback) last year,” Elmore said. “But, as J.D. Blalock continued to improve, we all understood that Matthew was more dangerous when he was at receiver and the defense had to account for where he was on each play.
“He also gave us some options on defense in key situations. He was able to play (cornerback), outside linebacker or safety if necessary. We looked at our opponents’ strengths each week and then decided where Matthew could help the defense when needed.”
Shaddix unknowingly played the second half of his senior football season with a broken toe. The injury happened during the Buckhorn game Oct. 10. Neither Shaddix nor Fort Payne’s trainer suspected the injury to have been a break.
“I just kept playing on it and just kept taping it up more and more every week,” Shaddix said.
In a postseason visit to his doctor, Shaddix saw the fracture.
Shaddix began running track during junior high. He qualified for the state meet four times, was a top-three-ranked hurdler in Alabama for three years, qualified for the USA Track and Field Junior Olympic Nationals and was a member of Fort Payne’s boys 4x400-meter relay team that broke the school record.
Shaddix felt compelled to chase his dad’s track and field school records.
“It was a pride thing for me,” he said.
Shaddix said running track also helped him learn how mentally tough he was.
“I think anyone who runs track can learn so much from it,” he said. “You literally go out there and run until you can’t run anymore. You really find out what you’re made of, how far you can push your body and how mentally tough you can be.”
He qualified for his first state track and field meet as an eighth-grader by grabbing the final spot in the state meet. He was sitting in sixth place in a hurdle race, leaping over one of the last few hurdles when the runner ahead of him fell.
Shaddix embraced his dad afterward.
“I was like, ‘Man, I’m not supposed to be here.’ My dad said, ‘But you are here,’” Shaddix said.
Shaddix and teammates Will Crow, Reece Weaver and J.D. Nelson broke Fort Payne’s 4x400-meter relay record in 2018. Shaddix participated in three other events and even had an accident on the track that rendered him unconscious all prior to the 4x400 race.
While running in a 300-meter hurdle race (his third of four events) he clipped the sixth hurdle as he was leaping it, fell and knocked himself out on the track.
“All I remember was waking up in the medical tent and I was so mad because I was winning and I felt like I was on pace to break the school record, which my dad holds,” Shaddix said.
After witnessing Shaddix’s accident, Fort Payne track and field coaches Ashley Jackson and C.M. Sanford were preparing to find a substitution for Shaddix in the upcoming 4x400 race.
“The team was seated like sixth, far from a shot at getting to the podium,” Jackson said. “We told Matthew he didn’t need to run and he refused to sit out. ...He was being stubborn, but he ran it. He ran what was probably the best leg he’s ever ran and that’s what’s crazy.”
Jackson said all four boys “ran the race of their lives.”
Nelson was the last Fort Payne runner in the relay. He rushed from sixth place to fourth and crossed the finish line at nearly the same time as the third-place runner.
It took officials about five minutes to review the video and conclude that Nelson crossed first, earning Fort Payne an improbable third-place finish.
“It still gives me chills. It was one of the best races I’ve ever had a part of watching or coaching,” Jackson said.
Shaddix earned a second-place medal in the 300-meter hurdles during the 2019 season and was a part of Fort Payne’s hurdle team that staked its spot among the best in the state.
“Matthew was a wonderful asset to our boys hurdle team,” Fort Payne track and field coach Selena Penton said. “...I firmly believe he would have had a successful indoor season for 2020 and won another state medal had he not had an unfortunate injury still lingering from football season.”
Shaddix’s next stop will be JSU. He signed a letter of intent to play football for the university in February. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, JSU coaches have been forced to bring a limited number of athletes to campus in waves for workouts this summer. Shaddix said he’s set to report July 10.
Matthew will join his brother Michael on the football team this fall. Michael, an offensive lineman, will be a redshirt junior.
Matthew said he’ll greatly benefit from having his brother with him in Jacksonville.
“When (Michael) first went down there he was by himself and had to learn everything by the seat of his pants,” Matthew said. “I’m going to have him to look up to and learn from, ask questions as I get settled down there.”