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Matt Cavanagh of Edina is the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year

By DAVID LA VAQUE, Star Tribune, 11/19/18, 4:30PM CST


“A student at life’’ is how a coach and former player of the year describes the Harvard-bound, multi-talented Cavanagh.

“He answered the bell all the time,” Hornets coach Derrin Lamker said. “And he never got up and made a big deal about a tackle or a run. He’s a dream kid to work with.”

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez * cgonzalez@startribune.com

At the 6:38 mark of his senior highlight video, Edina’s Matt Cavanagh looks out of the play that epitomized his prep career.

Rosemount’s quarterback pitches the ball left to his running back and receiver Jonathan Mann, who is committed to the Gophers, steps in Cavanagh’s path.
Cavanagh, the free safety, spins off Mann’s block. But as he begins pursuit of the ball carrier, he’s five yards behind and seemingly toast. Still, he puts his head down and pumps his arms and legs with renewed vigor.

Some 40 yards later, Cavanagh makes the tackle.

If his coaches loved the relentless effort, Cavanagh said he never heard about it.

“I don’t really go to the sidelines to get praise,” he said.

Call it an unintended consequence of unusual durability. Cavanagh was a standout running back and free safety for the Hornets, leading the tough Metro West subdistrict in carries and his team in tackles. He also contributed as a place-kicker, punter and return man.

A strong will carried him through the battles, the bumps and the bruises on and off the field. An exception student as well, Cavanagh has committed to play football at Harvard. And he is the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year.

“He answered the bell all the time,” Hornets' coach Derrin Lamker said. “And he never got up and made a big deal about a tackle or a run. He’s a dream kid to work with.”

At 6-1 and 205 pounds, Cavanagh ran 263 times for 1,389 yards and nine touchdowns. He only fumbled once in 10 games. He averaged 5.3 yards per carry for an offense that did not exactly create fear with its passing game.

On defense, Cavanagh finished with 100 tackles, five pass breakups, three forced fumbles and two interceptions.

Edina's Matt Cavanagh, shown here against Eden Prairie, only fumbled once in 263 carries and averaged 5.3 yards per carry. RENEE JONES SCHNEIDER ¥ renee.jones@startribune.com

Unofficial statistics include a couple of ankle sprains. A wrist sprain. General leg soreness. Some cramps. Nothing that stopped Cavanagh, however. He asked coaches to plug him in anywhere. They obliged, and he thrived.

“I love it,” he said of the full-time grind. “I miss it when I’m not on the field. I wish I can always be out there making an impact on something.”

Becoming a player for all situations took time.

A starting outside linebacker to open his sophomore season, Cavanagh was moved to free safety, a position he never played, halfway through the first game. Opportunities to also play running back, his first love, came halfway through the season.

As a junior, Cavanagh started the season at running back and saw some action at safety. Halfway through the season, he did both full-time and loved the challenge.

“Before this season I asked if I was just playing running back or defense and Lamker said, ‘You’re going both ways all year long,’ ” Cavanagh said. “I was like, ‘Alright, let’s do it.’ I was really excited.”

Cavanagh’s senior season was the second of two working with Bridgeport Tusler, the Metro Player of the Year in 2012 from Osseo. As a senior, Tusler saw action at running back, slot receiver, cornerback, free safety and return man.

Lamker, who led Osseo to the 2015 Class 6A Prep Bowl title before taking the Edina job, brought in Tusler to coach the running backs.

The high-achieving, multifaceted Tusler and Cavanagh inspired one another.

“He motivated me to not get tired, to just keep grinding through it,” Cavanagh said. “One time last year I was cramping and I said, ‘I don’t know if I can go back in,’ and he said, ‘We need you out there.’ That pushed me to push through the pain.”

Tusler said Cavanagh is “so devoted. He makes piercing eye contact all the time. He motivated me to do more as a coach.

“Harvard is perfect for him because he’s so determined,” Tusler said. “He’s a student at life.”

Cavanagh said he chose the prestigious Massachusetts university over scholarship offers elsewhere because “Harvard is a place that’s going to challenge me on and off the field as well as socially. And I like being challenged like that. I think it makes you a better person.”

The praise Cavanagh was too busy to receive during the Sept. 7 game against Rosemount came later from Tulser.

“That’s my favorite Matt Cavanagh play,” Tusler said. “You work on pursuit in practice everyday and he plays until you make him stop playing.”

The only thing Cavanagh didn’t do for Edina’s offense was its version of the Wildcat formation in which the running back, not the quarterback, takes the center’s snap.

“We called it Cavy-cat,” Cavanagh said. “Lamker named it. We had it in the playbook for two years but we never ran it, unfortunately.”

Cavanagh at a glance

Number of the beasts: Cavanagh and Osseo graduate Bridgeport Tusler, both of them Metro Players of the Year under coach Derrin Lamker, both wore No. 34 on the football field. “My dad was really into Walter Payton so I grew up loving the number 34,’’ Cavanagh said. “It’s part of my Twitter handle, it’s in my e-mail address and coincidentally it’s part of my phone number, too. It follows me around. I was thinking of switching to No. 11 this year because of my birthday, which is May 11. But my coaches and my mom said, ‘No, you’ve got to stick with 34. It kind of represents you.’ ’’

A singer and servant: Cavanagh sings bass in the Cathedral Choir at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. In the summer, he attends the church’s Cathedral of the Pines camp in Lutsen, Minn. Once a camper, Cavanagh now works as a camp counselor for kids in grades 3-9.


All-Metro teams

Meet the 2017 Star Tribune all-metro first and second team offenses.

See who was named to the 2018 Star Tribune all-metro first and second team defenses.


Past Star Tribune Metro Players of the Year

2017: Antonio Montero, Eden Prairie, RB/LB

2016: Brad Davison, Maple Grove, QB

2015: J.D. Spielman, Eden Prairie, Athlete

2014: Robbie Grimsley, Hutchinson, RB

2013: Jacques Perra, Roseville, QB

2012: Bridgeport Tusler, Osseo, RB

2011: Trey Heid, Lakeville North, QB

2010: Eric Kline, Blaine, QB

2009: A.J. Tarpley, Wayzata, LB

2008: Anders Lee, Edina, QB

2007: Michael Floyd, Cretin-Derham Hall, WR

2006: Blake Sorensen, Eden Prairie, LB/RB

2005: Jake Machacek, Eastview, RB

2004: Walker Ashley, Eden Prairie, DL

2003: Nathan Swift, Hutchinson, RB

2002: John Majeski, Hastings, RB/DB

2001: Kim Sarin, Cretin-Derham Hall, RB/KR

2000: Joe Mauer, Cretin-Derham Hall, QB

1999: Dominique Sims, DeLaSalle, QB/DB

1998: Thomas Tapeh, St. Paul Johnson, RB

1997: Marvin Spencer, Blaine, RB

1996: Adam Runk, Stillwater, DB/WR

1995: Aaron Runk, Stillwater, RB

1994: LeRoy McFadden, Eden Prairie, RB

1993: Tommy Reynolds, St. Paul Johnson, RB

1992: Marcus Harris, Brooklyn Center, RB

1991: Carl McCullough, Cretin-Derham Hall, RB

1990: Bryce Darnell, Brooklyn Center, QB

1989: Joe Dziedzic, Minneapolis Edison, RB/LB

1988: Paul Meyer, Minneapolis Henry, RB/LB

1987: Rod Smith, Roseville, RB

1986: Kurt Gunning, Stillwater, RB

1985: Bob Coughlin, Osseo, NG

Ron Goetz, Waconia, RB/LB

1984: Steve Walsh, Cretin-Derham Hall, QB

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