Feb 082014

Football signing day: Serra star Matt Dickerson’s long road to UCLA

By Glenn Reeves
San Jose Mercury News

SAN MATEO — When Matt Dickerson signed a letter of intent Wednesday to play for UCLA, it culminated months of extreme highs and lows for the Serra defensive lineman.

To sum it up:

Dickerson gave an oral commitment over the summer to Notre Dame, the school that represents the pinnacle of the college football experience for many players, especially those from Catholic high schools such as Serra.

A lower back injury prevented Dickerson from playing a down as a senior.

The emotional blow of not being able to play last fall was followed by news that his father had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

After having his joy of committing to Notre Dame tempered by the double blows of his own injury and his father’s medical crisis, Dickerson made the decision to sign instead with UCLA, so that he could remain closer to home.

“I just want to say I am so appreciative of Notre Dame and how they stuck with me through the whole process of my injury,” said Dickerson, who signed his letter in a ceremony at Serra. “If my dad hadn’t gotten that diagnosis, I would have been right there.”

Dickerson played well as a junior defensive end for Serra but was only lightly acclaimed for his performance as a West Catholic Athletic League honorable mention selection.

But that’s not what college recruiters look at.

“That stuff doesn’t matter,” Serra coach Patrick Walsh said. “Stuff on paper is secondary to what’s on film.”

Walsh sent out film of Dickerson and then called the Notre Dame office to make sure they had a chance to evaluate the film. He talked to Notre Dame’s West Coast recruiter Mike Denbrock about Dickerson as a person.

“They saw a 6-foot-5, 280-pound kid who was pretty unblockable and with potential beyond high school,” Walsh said. “They liked him and offered him.”

Once he committed, Dickerson settled in to have a great senior year at Serra.

“I never saw a kid practice harder than Matt Dickerson,” Walsh said. “You’d think he was the most overachieving kid of all time.”

“I knew a lot of players would like to be in my shoes,” Dickerson said. “The last thing I wanted to do was come off as big and boastful.”

But then the pain in his lower back intensified. Dickerson was told he had a stress fracture that would heal with rest.

“In October, I was told that in six months I would be fine and that it shouldn’t ever pop up again,” Dickerson said.

A prognosis that was OK for the long term, but in the present his senior football and basketball seasons were wiped out.

“I can’t tell you how difficult it was for me,” Dickerson said. “I felt so bad. I didn’t want to talk to anybody. But coach Walsh talked to me every day and helped me out. My parents, my teachers and counselors, a lot of my friends all helped me realize that all things happen for a reason.”

But then came the second blow of his father, Clarence Dickerson, who played fullback at Henderson State in Arkansas, being diagnosed with cancer. Dickerson couldn’t bear the idea of spending the next four years in Indiana, so far away from his family in San Mateo.

“My mother has trouble walking, needs two knee replacements,” Dickerson said. “She is disabled. If I went to Notre Dame, I would have had such a long distance to travel. That’s the main reason I decided to stay out here in California.”

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