Matt Carre is not your typical Athletic director, head football coach or even freshman english teacher. He tries to live by and make the student athletes as well as the student body be proud of the saying, 'It's a great day to be a Highlander.'
This year marks a program turnaround for the Highlander football team at Thomas McKean High School in Mill Creek, Delaware.
The former Howard Wildcat, University of Pennsylvania Quaker and New Jersey Department of Education Instructional Specialist sat down with WDEL to tell the tale of what drives him to get the best out of his students from the classroom to the field.
"Ultimately, I knew the day would come that I wouldn't be a player anymore," said Carre. "I thought to myself--well, I want to do for kids what my coaches did for me. My coaches had such a big impact on my life that i said I think that that's what I want to do."
Carre was a star athlete at Howard High School of Technology in Wilmington, was essentially raised by a single mother and went on to become an Ivy league wideout at the University of Pennsylvania, with his path becoming his drive.
"I think about me and I realize my own potential in high school--it gets back to why I do what I do," he added. "I had the potential as a high school student to go to an Ivy League university and play division one football and I didn't even know that. They [Carre's coaches] saw that--they knew that and said that 'you can do this.' I did it and so, for me, when I see a kid underperforming or see a kid who's not living up to their own potential, that's when I step in and say 'you're better than this.' Whether it's in the classroom, the hallways or the field--you're better than this."
Carre admits to not being a great test-taker but found his first academic hurdle was in store his sophomore season as carre won a starting job on the Quakers and received his first academic C's ever and unfortunately all at the time.
That meant for the Penn athlete that he'd need to buckle down and balance football and studies more evenly. He would succeed with a 4.0 Spring semester and eventually would graduate with All Ivy League honors at wideout.
Carre would use that experience to do great things. The NFL never came calling, but he tried his hand as an intern for King's college, near Scranton to find out if coaching college ball was where his path would lead.
"I missed being home, so I came home after that year at King's and I sent out an email to all the Delaware head coaches saying this is who I am--I'm coming back to the area and I want to be a high school football coach," Carre said. "Coach [Dan] Ritter called me and said 'don't do that. Don't send that out to everybody. If you want to coach, I have a spot right here for you."
Reunited with Ritter, Carre would start to fine tune his coaching and his work in the classroom that an Ivy league education prepped him for before looking ahead.
"I was an assistant for coach Ritter for about four years and I felt like it was time to grow," he added. "I had some success as an educator at Howard although my first year, being observed in the classroom, it was almost like--let's try that again. They said 'we don't want to use that for your observation--we'll come back another day.' I went from that to teacher of the year, my last year there."
During those four years from academic infamy to celebration, Carre also helped boost test scores for his alma mater, before stepping away from the sidelines and being hired by the New Jersey Department of Education to work with underperforming schools in the trenton area.
Carre stepped away from the game but even the money and the impact across the river couldn't keep him away as he knew he could do more for both students and athletes my marrying his competitive nature and leadership skills with the classroom and sideline.
In 2014, he would get the opportunity to head back Delaware way via the Red Clay Consolidated School District and Thomas McKean High School's struggling football team.
"I was just the head football coach for two years and during that time I was working on my masters, online, from Concordia University in coaching and athletic administration," said Carre. "Almost simultaneously, the position of athletic director position opened up here [McKean] and so it just seemed like good timing in terms of my life that I had the qualification and then the job opened ."
That touch of Kismet would give Carre a chance to get back to what he wanted to accomplish when he started, when he taught back in the city at Howard, be challenger for sports and academics, the key?
"You have to have patience--I have to have patience as an educator, but I have to believe that my students can do it, because I don't believe that my students can do it--I'll never put the challenge in front of them," he said. "I'll never say that anything isn't an obtainable goal. When I was at Howard, we said 75%. We wanted 75% of our kids to be proficient and that was the goal. Everybody knew it and our fall test scores were at 20-30% proficiency. To say that you were going to go from 20-30% to 75%, most people would say that's unrealistic and that it can't be done. We said that it can be done and that was the first step--you believe that it can be done and that the kids can learn if they're taught, challenged and can rise to the occasion. If you have low expectations, then that's where the kids will fall but if you raise your expectations in the classroom and on the field-- you know, we were 1-9 last year and we set the expectation higher than that. If we came into this year and said we're McKean--we don't expect to be good and we don't expect to be in the conversation when it comes down to the playoffs, then we won't be."
Mckean's tough loss to a visiting Mount Pleasant squad effectively pulled the plug on the cinderella story, but the Highlanders are still poised to have their first winning record since 2005.
Proving he could make it in division one college football, turning around Howard academics and now the McKean football team--Carre is putting himself in a position to positively affect more than just his student athletes,
although they do help him reach more and more kids every day.
Carre uses his experience to further dedicate himself to his students.
"I see some of our students here who struggle, academically and I'm able to say that I'm a resource for you. I have my players that come to me with their work and it's like, 'if you're struggling with something, bring it to me,'" Carre said. "I'll sit down and help at some point of the day."
Aaron Lewis is a junior wideout for the Highlander football team who says Carre more than lives up to the hype.
"First of all, you're grades come first, above football--so you need that and that's his [Carre's] deal," said Lewis. "He treats me like family. He's like a father figure to me--he's that man. When you need something done, go see Coach Carre."
When it comes down to brass tax for Carre, who is usually not one for pomp and circumstance in the first place, it's all about giving every student in the building that he can, the same opportunity to succeed that he had.
"That's where I say that I want to do what I do because you can have that kid that doesn't know that they have that potential and then maybe he goes Ivy League," Carre added. "Maybe he doesn't go Ivy League but he gets that degree and that degree changes his life. That may not have been a part of the plan until a coach came in and said 'you can do this.' I think those experiences and the way my life has gone--because of my coaches and because of football, I was able to have all of this other stuff and I want to be the guy who steps into a kid's life and helps them realize their potential--you know, impact their life like my coaches did mine."
Coach Carre says there's a lot of parallels between his role as a teacher, coach and director, but it all starts with a growth mindset for these schools and these kids.