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Shelby County High School offensive tackle Matt Axline signed a letter-of-intent Wednesday to play for the University of Tennessee at Martin.
Axline (6 feet 5, 313 pounds) was a four-year starter for the Rockets, playing left tackle as a senior. He was named to the all-district team and made honorable mention on The Associated Press All-State Team. He also played in the Greater Louisville Area Coaches All-Star Game.
Family, friends, teammates and coaches were in the SCHS library to celebrate Axline's signing and praised his hard work. There was also some gentle ribbing and plenty of advice.
His sister Heather recalled his Pee Wee football days, being the biggest kid on the field, as always, but at that age very uncoordinated. She told Axline, “Don’t be afraid to let yourself be great.”
SCHS Coach Todd Shipley remembered putting Axline on the offensive line as a freshman, learning he had the mental toughness to compliment his size and strength.
“He’s been blessed with a lot of physical gifts. Matt’s always been the guy you look to,” Shipley said. “We threw him in there. In the first 25 plays he had 25 pluses, no minuses.”
The plus/minus system is how coaches grade a player in getting the assignment right or wrong each play. As a lineman, Axline doesn’t have the hard statistics like rushing, passing and touchdowns.
But he is proud of succeeding time and again in his main role, protecting the quarterback’s blind side.
“I think in the four years I started, I allowed three sacks,” Axline said.
The techniques he has learned through high school will serve him well at the college level, he said. UT-Martin plays in the Ohio Valley Conference team.
“It’s going to be faster, a lot faster. And a lot bigger,” Axline said. “I’m looking forward to playing for a conference championship every year.”
Axline will join the roster as a backup at tackle. UT-Martin graduates several offensive linemen this year, which drew the school to scout Axline.
Axline is following the family tradition by playing college sports. His father, Matt Sr., played football for the University of Louisville, and Heather played basketball for Berea. His brother Ben is a starting wide receiver for SCHS.
“You don’t have to worry about his academics,” Shipley said. “If he doesn’t make it to the pro level, he’ll have the academic degree to be successful.”
Axline was first drawn to UT-Martin for its academics. He’d like to major in zoology.
“I’m going to try and do endangered species field research and study animals,” he said.