Division III player trying to put those 16-hour bus trips in his rearview mirror

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

For Falcons rookie offensive lineman Matt Gono, those 16-hour bus trips are over.

If the undrafted rookie from Wesley College, a Division III school in Delaware, can make the team, he’ll fly chartered jets to his games.

“I remember one game, my freshmen year, we had a game in Alabama,” Gono said after rookie minicamp’s Saturday practice. “It was a 16-hour bus ride. That was one of the first (college) games that I ever played. That was something else being on a bus for that long.

“It was a long 16 hours. My body was stiff. We flew to California one time. That was a good experience.”

Gono, a late bloomer, wasn’t heavily recruited out of Cinnaminson, New Jersey.

“I just started playing football in high school,” said Gono, a native of Liberia. “I didn’t know much about the sport.”

He’s 6-foot-4 and 319 pounds and dominated at the Division III level.

“I’ve just been developing since high school,” Gono said. “Coming out, I didn’t get any big offers or anything like that. It was between going to Rowan in Jersey or Wesley. I just liked what the coaches had to say and the energy they brought. I just went with my intuition. I thought that was the right decision to make.”

He started right away for Wesley at right tackle and switched to left tackle as a senior.

“When I was a freshman at Wesley, I treated it like anything that I cared about it,” Gono said. “I treated it like I had to do my best. I wasn’t really concerned about starting. I definitely enjoyed my experience there.”

In his junior season, the NFL scouts started coming around.

“My quarterback in college, Joe Callahan, signed with the Packers,” Gono said. “So, he opened the gate. After that, there was a lot of attention, and I just kept doing my thing.”

The Falcons had to outbid the Bears, Lions, Packers, Jets and Buffalo for Gono, who received $7,500 from the Falcons. It was the third highest bonus the team gave to any of their 27 undrafted free agents.

After his career at Wesley, Gono played in the NFLPA college all-star bowl game in Los Angeles.

“There was a lot of competition out there,” Gono said. “They wanted to see me compete against guys from bigger schools. I went there and got better every day and did my thing in the game.”

Gono didn’t play football until his freshman year at Cinnaminson High. All he knew about football was that there was an offense and a defense.

He was a tall and skinny kid at 225 pounds. He grew up playing soccer and basketball.

At the school’s Pro Day, he lifted 225 pounds 26 times.

“He stayed in summers,” Wesley coach Mike Drass told the Courier-Post. “Our strength coach Bernie Nowakowski really put in work with him, and it truly paid off. He went from being a very good small-college football player to being the best at his position in the country.”

The Falcons used Gono at right tackle during the rookie minicamp.


Matt Gono, offensive lineman, Wesley College: HEIGHT: 6-foot, 4-inches. WEIGHT: 319 pounds ARM LENGTH: 34 3/8 inches HAND SIZE: 10 inches 40-YARD DASH: 5.1 seconds BENCH PRESS: 26 reps of 225 pounds VERTICAL JUMP: 31 inches BROAD JUMP: 9 feet, 10 inches ■OVERVIEW: A Division III player from a small school in Delaware. Started at right tackle as a freshman. He shifted to left tackle as a senior. Started all 50 games of his college career. He projects as a guard in the NFL. He received a $7,500 bonus from the Falcons.