By Tim Strong
“He is amazing, he helps out so much.” “Coach Crater, love that guy.”
Matt Crater is an assistant football coach at College of the Canyons, but his connection to student-athletes goes far beyond the field.
Crater holds an uncommon position at the junior college level, as Student-Athlete Mentor, it is his goal to take athletes’ competitiveness on the field and help them find that same competitiveness in the classroom.
Crater found his passion for both coaching and teaching at a young age. Both of his parents are teachers and his father is also a coach. “From a very early age I played soccer, basketball, and baseball…in high school my three sports were football, basketball, and baseball.”
Crater was the middle linebacker on his high school football team in Spokane Washington, but he knew being recruited by a Division-1 college would be difficult due to his size. He decided to attend Yuba
Community College in Northern California. “Coming from a small town in Washington to now being in
California where we had people coming from all over the world was different, it was a culture shock.”
Despite the major culture shock, he loved the college life in California. “I was like man this is awesome, look at all these people coming together, everyone had their own issues to work through so that was always fun.”
He would then transfer to Western Montana looking to continue his playing career but fate had different plans as he suffered a career ending injury before playing his first game for WMU. This is where Crater got his first coaching job as many smaller universities rely on students to fill their coaching staff. “I never even got to play a game at Western Montana, but I started coaching immediately in order to keep my scholarship.”
Crater also gave some insight on these small school coaching staffs “The small schools and NIA schools they usually have a lot of student coaches because you can only have two or three full time coaches and the rest you staff by paying for their school so that’s what I did there.”
Many coaches never reach the college level, let alone receive their first ever coaching job in college. That was not the case for Crater as he found himself coaching athletes who were older than him, but it was a smooth transition from playing to coaching. “I had a good relationship with the players that I was working with so it wasn’t that challenging.”
The one personal challenge he did find was with the age difference between him and his players, “It was odd that I was younger than some of the players that I was coaching, and so that was a challenge. I don’t know if it was a challenge for them as much as for me to get past it in my own head.”
This first job at Western Montana taught Crater a lot, including how to interact and communicate with his players. “I was a junior coaching seniors and even fifth-year seniors, it was ironic, but I wasn’t stubborn or too embarrassed to listen to them. I wasn’t going to be a dictator to them, more like ‘hey we are going to figure this thing out together.’”
COC is Crater’s third coaching job, as he coached at L.A Valley before getting hired by the Cougars. Moving from Montana to Los Angeles was another huge culture shock for Crater. “Western Montana is a four-year school but it’s a small college, so the environment is a little bit different. Then when I went to Valley I moved from a town of 6,000 in Montana to Los Angeles where there is 6 million people in the same space.”
For Crater, the biggest culture shock was the diversity and change of pace in L.A. “In Montana you recruit Montana, you only recruit people who live in Montana and now you’re in Southern California with all the diversity that took place, which was a shock too, all the different cultures coming at you. I’m used to ‘this is how you do it in Montana’ and that’s not necessarily how you do things in Los Angeles.”
After coaching at L.A Valley for four years, Crater decided to go a different direction and join the COC coaching staff. Moving from Valley to Canyons was more of a professional and career move. “After you’ve been in a place for a little bit, there wasn’t a lot of growth going on any more so for me I had a chance to go do something new and different.” Why COC? Because of the creativity that comes with the school.
“Canyons is a place that people want to go because of the facilities that we have and the way that the college is set up to be innovative in a way, where you can do something new.”
All three of Coach Crater’s stops from Montana to COC have all shaped him in different ways, he explained how. “I learned how to be a coach in Montana, learned how to be an academic advisor at Valley, and I was able to put the two together at COC.”
Crater has also been a welcomed addition to the Cougars’ coaching staff, as the energy he brings to the field is unmatched. “On the field he brings a lot of passion and energy, he really is excited to be out there coaching and getting guys better whether it’s in the secondary or special teams.” Said assistant football coach Dan Corbet.
Crater is a very innovative person, both as a coach and mentor, and his fellow coaches appreciate the different ideas that he brings to the table, Corbet spoke about this “He brings a good different perspective to some of us, I’ve been here a long time for ten years, so it’s good to get his insight on things. That’s important to keep thinking and progressing so I would say that is the biggest thing.”
Coming from a teaching family, Crater always wanted to be a history teacher growing up. Though he has taken a different path, academics and teaching are still a big part of what he does at COC. When Crater is not coaching on the football field, you can probably find him in the TLC on campus. As student-athlete mentor, it is Crater’s job to make sure that every student-athlete gets the proper resources academically.
This includes everything from making sure athletes attend their classes, to getting them tutoring if they are struggling in a class.
One constant trait with student-athletes is that they are very headstrong and do not like asking for help, Crater touched on some of the issues that student-athletes face in the classroom. “There is a pride to it, where they are used to being the best on the field, so asking for help is a challenge for them.” To combat this, he works side by side with the tutors and academic advisors in the TLC to make sure that his student athletes are not afraid to ask for help or tutoring.
Another method Crater has used with student-athletes is finding their competitiveness on the field and use that same competitiveness in the classroom. “Part of it is bringing out their competitive nature, just like you would go onto the field, you don’t want to lose.” He continued “You try to get to that competitive nature and say ‘An A is the standard at College of the Canyons, if you’re not getting an A you’re doing something wrong and here’s what you can do about it”
Crater’s success as a student-athlete mentor has been recognized by fellow coaches, Coach Corbet talked about how Crater has improved the entire athletic department. “You can definitely tell the difference across the entire department, I’ll just be walking around and see athletes from every sport talking to Coach Crater, so that means he’s building a rapport with them.” Corbet continued on why this is so important. “A lot of the student athletes are sometimes scared to go in the tutoring lab just because they’ve never done it or used it, so he’s creating a comfortability with them to go in there and use the resources they have to get better.”
COC is regarded as one of the top community colleges in the entire state, both athletically and academically, the school is also known for being able to prepare students for universities and four year colleges. In his student-athlete program, Coach Crater uses similar methods in preparing his students for post-COC life. “I do a lot of research as far as who is successful as a student-athlete and what are they doing that makes those schools successful.” This does not mean COC does things differently than any other community college or university, in fact Crater says they try to be as similar as possible “We know that the students’ goal is to go to a four-year school, we try to make it as close to what a four-year program would be like. I wouldn’t say that we are trying to do anything different, but we use the resources that we have.”
Crater gave some examples about the various resources on campus. “We have an amazing tutoring center and an awesome strength and conditioning coach, we use those tools that we have available to us to create a program that will be just like a four-year when they get there.”
High level coaches are always looking for ways to evolve, in the way they coach, the system they run, etc. and according to Coach Crater, his work in the TLC has helped him grow as a coach. “Definitely relationship wise, being in here you learn to take a step back because you get to know them on a personal level.” he dug deeper into the topic “You realize a kid is going home hungry, he might not have had anything to eat that night or mom and dad are going through a divorce, or they got in a car wreck a few weeks ago. Life happens and sometimes as a coach you forget about that because you’re so worried about winning games.” He concluded with examples of how he has changed as a coach “You get to know them as a person first and everything comes after that, coaching wise I can look at a kid and know what is going on, you never lower your standard, but you realize that I make sure to tell Johnny good job today instead of yelling at him because he did something wrong. Trying to see the positives more has been something that I’ve changed in my coaching.”
The student-athlete mentor program has created a massive turnaround academically within the athletic department, before the program student-athletes at COC averaged a 2.7 GPA, now the average GPA is up above a 3.0.
Crater’s efforts have been noticed by student-athletes, and many credit him for helping them both as players and students. “He’s a great guy, he has really helped me with my move here from Iowa.” said freshman football player Joe Hess. “He’s done nothing but help me on and off the field.”
This opinion is not exclusive to the football team either. “He makes sure were always doing the right thing, always doing our homework and not fooling around.” Said basketball star Alex Sanchez.
While Crater would like to become a head football coach eventually, he has no plans to leave COC and wants to keep building his program with the TLC. “It needs to grow…reach past the athletes and get into classrooms and help more people out, use the resources we have with the athletes to recruit more people to be a part of their study groups.”
Crater finished his interview with a poignant quote that can apply to any job, career field, or life experience. “If you’re comfortable, you’re not changing or growing, in order for good things to happen you have to be willing to be uncomfortable. Be comfortable being uncomfortable.”