‘The Dream Lives On’: 34-Year-Old Marine Veteran Makes College Football Team

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Matt Ganyard is a Marine Corps veteran, a husband, a father and, now, a walk-on kicker for the University of Virginia football team — a dream he wasn’t sure would ever become a reality.

On Saturday, the 34-year-old Ganyard took on kickoff duties for the UVA Cavaliers in the team’s game against the Tennessee Volunteers in Nashville.

Before stepping onto the gridiron, Ganyard served his country for a decade as a Marine, honing his football skills any chance he had. In fact, according to OutKick, he practiced everywhere he could, including random fields in countries like Jordan, coaching himself through new techniques he learned on YouTube.

Ganyard’s dream of playing for the ‘Hoos has been a long time coming.

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After playing soccer in high school, Ganyard tried out for the Virginia football team in 2009, but he didn’t make the cut. Nevertheless, every student has five years of eligibility once they step on campus, which, for Ganyard, began in 2008.

Thanks to an NCAA rule, his clock paused in 2011, when he enrolled in active duty in the Marine Corps. He then applied for a waiver, but the NCAA denied it. With the help of UVA, Ganyard appealed the decision — and it worked.

“I think one of the greatest things somebody can give is their time, and they put in so much time and effort to make this waiver a possibility,” he told USA Today of Virginia. “So I can’t thank them enough.”

Ganyard is certainly an expert at flying the AH-1 Cobra helicopter, but he’s still learning the ropes of football, particularly when it comes the the uniform.

“I don’t know enough about football,” he said. “I’m still learning, and putting on the pads was one thing. I look over to Vadin [Bruot] next to me and say, ‘OK, so this goes on first?’ I felt like the scene from ‘Little Giants’ where he holds up the cup: ‘Does this go here?’”

There was only one problem, though: His much younger teammates didn’t understand his reference to a 1994 movie.

“I think they’ve realized in the past three weeks that I’m just another guy with a little more life experience,” he joked. “But, at the end of the day, I’m just another guy here to help the team succeed on the field.”

The Cavs lost the game 49-13. Regardless, it’s not a day Ganyard will soon forget.

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