Matthew Holloway has never been one to shy away from taking chances or blazing a path into a new adventure.
A man in his mid-20s, Holloway lives a life so interesting some could say he’s right up there with the Dos Eqis man. He manages his life like one giant bucket list and it has a checklist that’s ever growing.
A 2005 NHS graduate, Holloway was a standout soccer player and a vital part of the Wildcats’ 2004 district championship. Playing forward for coach Roger Sides, Holloway earned all-conference, all-district and all-region honors. He was also a standout on a traveling team known as Firestorm 86 that barnstormed throughout the area during the high school offseason.
Holloway eventually moved on and attended college at Northwest Missouri State University.
As it turns out, once Holloway’s playing days were complete his adventurous side took over. Pretty soon he got bored and sought new challenges, and when he got a new idea he acted on it.
He quickly found a way to entertain himself. His talent and love of music landed him in a number of bands, where he says he’s played just about every instrument under the sun. A love of sports led him to coaching an 11-12 year old girls’ fastpitch softball team just for the heck of it. “That was an experience,” he’d say.
On a larger scale, Holloway accomplished something not many can lay claim to when he went viral on the internet in 2008 with a video he posted on YouTube titled “my first dirtbike ride… CRASH.” The video, described perfectly by its title, received over 900,000 views on the site and soon propelled the clip onto television shows such as MTV’s “Ridiculousness,” hosted by Rob Dyrdek and TruTV’s “Dumbest Stuff On Wheels” as well as other shows.
As cool as those moments were for him, Holloway continued looking for new things to try. One day, while killing time by kicking footballs with a friend who kicked for the Bearcats at Northwest Missouri State, the player suggested Holloway should consider playing football — kicking, specifically. He found the idea so crazy that even he doubted it would ever happen and dismissed the idea.
But then a few months ago an opportunity arose. Joplin formed a semi-pro arena football team and was seeking players. Holloway decided to give it a try, though he still thought the idea to be a crazy one.
To understand the magnitude of his decision would entail knowing and understanding Holloway on a personal level. A big fan of the sport, not even he thought he’d ever suit up and play in an official game. He never played a down in high school, and wondered if he’d even have a shot.
Page 2 of 4 - As it turned out after a little practice, Holloway noticed the powerful right leg that helped lead those Wildcats to a district title in soccer still had some miles left. He went to a tryout with the Four States Fusion and won the kicking job. What once seemed like only a dream suddenly became reality.
“Football was something I always wanted to do in high school, but I always played soccer,” Holloway said. “Soccer was my first passion.”
It was a new experience in many ways. For starters, he didn’t know anyone on the team.
“I was joining the team cold turkey,” he said. “I didn’t know anybody on the team, I didn’t know the coaches — I’d maybe kicked a ball off a tee a dozen times in my life. They liked enough of what they saw to keep me.”
This wasn’t just any football team, however. It was arena football — or football with arena league rules, anyways — though Joplin played its home games outdoors. While similar, the quirks of the game were a bit different and confusing to Holloway at first. During his first game he asked the coach if he’d stand nearby for the duration of the game. “Why the heck would I do that,” the coach barked. Holloway told him because he didn’t know when he was supposed to onto the field and kick. He knew the game by NFL rules, of course, but arena rules are, again, a bit different.
Perhaps the best illustration of the transition into his new hobby came away from the field, however. The first time he ever tried putting on shoulder pads he couldn’t do it. Didn’t know how. His teammates had to show him how to get them on properly.
“That’s a culture that I’ve never been exposed to before,” Holloway said. “I can recall our first scrimmage and our first league game, it was the first game for me ever wearing shoulder pads. I tried putting the shoulder pads on and then the jersey, and I couldn’t do it. I had guys trying to help me get dressed. It was pretty funny.”
When he hit the field it didn’t take long for the action to find him. Not long into his stint with the Fusion he recorded his first career tackle when he saved a touchdown by knocking a much larger return man out of bounds. It was, by all accounts, the highlight of the game and one he says he’ll never forget.
“That’s obviously got to be embarrassing for the return guy,” he joked. “You got tackled by a 160 pound guy.
Page 3 of 4 - That’s the thing though — I’d never been taught how to tackle anyone, I’d never done it, I’d never been taught how to hit.”
After a good start, things soured quickly with the Fusion as infighting amongst other players on the team made Holloway re-evaluate his desire to continue with them. He eventually decided to step away from the team.
His hiatus wouldn’t last long, however. He made contact with the head coach of one of the top teams in the league, the Southwest Missouri Voodoo, based out of Springfield, Mo., and arranged to make a video. Holloway, who resides in Joplin, went to a local elementary school and, with the help of his girlfriend behind the video camera, began booting 30, 40, 50 yard field goals on tape.
“I contacted coach Rich Nelson and told him my situation and that I wanted to continue playing, just for a different squad,” Holloway said. “He wanted me to send him a video. It was raining and really nasty … I sent it to him about midnight and he got a hold of me before 8 a.m., before I got to work the next morning, and told me he wanted me to suit up for them that weekend.”
Holloway was back in the game, and his first opponent on the schedule was none other than the Fusion, of course. The Voodoo easily won that game and every one after that. He’ll now find himself playing for the league championship this weekend in Kansas City. The league, which consists of 12 teams, features an American and National division, is comprised of teams from Missouri, Kansas and Iowa. Unlike the Fusion, the Voodoo plays indoors at Mediacom Ice Park, next door to Hammons Field in Springfield.
“We have a really good turnout and a really good following,” he said. “It’s a good atmosphere and a good following up there.”
Holloway admits the season has been a whirlwind. After hitting some 60-yard kicks, coaches suggested he find a kicking coach willing to work with him on refining his technique. That, they say, could allow him to step up to the next level of competition. It’s a thought that continues to intrigue Holloway, and he wants to continue his career, he says.
“Do I regret not playing (in high school)? To some degree,” he admitted. “I would have loved to have played both soccer and football. It may have been possible, but I think everything has played out for the best. Playing soccer not only at the high school level but also the club level, I was able to build up a lot of power with my kicking. Without that I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing now.
Page 4 of 4 - “Just realizing the growth I’ve had as a kicker has been really neat to witness.”
Aside from his desire to win a championship this weekend, Holloway admitted he also has his eyes on the upcoming All-Star game in a couple of weeks, and is hopeful to represent his team and league at the event. As far as his future, however, that’s up for discussion.
“It’s tough to say what’s next,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed this season and I feel like if I get some solid individual coaching I could continue to an even higher level. I’d like to continue playing football.
“It’s a very surreal experience to me, going from needing help putting my shoulder pads on before a game to having an opportunity to win a championship and get a ring. I’ve become a disciplined player on the sidelines and I don’t have to be babied. I know what coach expects of me and I go out there and do my job.”
There’s no telling what kind of challenge Holloway will decide to tackle next. He says his ultimate goal is to cash in on his current schooling and land a job working for the Kansas City Royals with an office inside Kauffman Stadium. Between now and then, however, is anyone’s guess.
“It could be competitive ping-pong, it’s tough to say,” he joked … or did he? “I always seem like I’ve got an iron in the fire.”