Editor’s Note: In the initial version of this story, former NFL lineman Jordan Carstens was incorrectly identified as a Guthrie Center graduate. He in fact graduated from Panorama in 1999. We apologize for the error.
His coaching pedigree runs deep.
Cody Matthewson’s drive to be the best, while studying under the best, has been his greatest motivator.
That passion is why the first-year AC/GC head coach returned to Iowa, grabbing the reins of a floundering program.
Football is in his blood, from the moment he was old enough to walk, the former Madrid running back was around greatness, and it’s rarely left his side since.
That, and a passion to rejuvenate two victory-starved communities in the heartland of Friday Night Lights drew Matthewson to Guthrie Center.
The coach exudes a notable passion for the game, growing up in one of the most ideal Iowa communities is a good start.
After tearing through the Madrid record books for legendary coach Randy Hinkel, leading the Tigers to the UNI Dome in 2007, Matthewson went off to Northwest Missouri State, joining a pair of Division II national title teams. He followed his college career up by returning to Madrid to coach under Hinkel for a year, before spending the last few years as an assistant at Truman High School in Independence, Missouri, a Kansas City suburb. It was there Matthewson studied under another legend, Gregg Webb, a five-time state champion and Kansas High School Hall of Famer.
Not even 30 years into his life and Matthewson’s football background speaks for itself.
“There’s a connection of being around a lot of coaches, a lot of success,” Matthewson said. “That’s what we are trying to do (here), bring that to these kids by surrounding them with coaches that have the mindset of champions.”
Matthewson has brought his father, Kurt, on board to coach with him this fall. Kurt was an assistant for 23 years under Hinkel, which allowed Cody incredible access to see how a historic program was built. But what stood out most during all those years at Madrid, was not how to create the most talented team, but how to leave a lasting impact on the players.
“The things Hinkel talked about weren’t always football related. He talked about making someone a better person, a better brother, a better father or a better grandson or just a better community member,” Matthewson said. “We’ve really embraced that role.
That shows in just the community hours we’ve put in the last month. Going beyond football to be a better person. That’s where it starts and that’s why I think football is a great platform to build a better person.”
The parallels he connects between football and reality are unrivaled in any other realm, Matthewson said. The sport can be used as a tool to build a young man’s future.
“There are things that you have to deal with in real life that you can relate to in real life situations,” he said. “Whether it’s adversity, having to be on time, how that affects your team and how it would affect your job.”
Despite his gradual rise through the ranks, to put it bluntly, Matthewson has his work cut out for him.
The Chargers have won just a single game since the merger Adair-Casey and Guthrie Center merger three years ago, compiling a 1-17 record. The Chargers are not even two years removed from a winless season in 2016 (0-9) and struggled to score last year, crossing the double double digit plateau just three times while getting shut out four different times.
Despite that notion, Matthewson isn’t ready to share his offensive secrets. He’s keeping it a surprise for the opponents and the Charger faithful. Friday night will be a completely new experience for everyone.
“I’m using the element of surprise,” the coach said. “No one has any film on us. I have no prior head coaching experience.”
Things aren’t as dire as one would imagine. Football has had a stranglehold in both the Adair-Casey and Guthrie Center communities in the past.
Adair-Casey was a powerhouse as recently as within the last two decades, tallying the longest winning-streak in eight-man history, 39 wins in a row from 200-2005, aided by back-to-back state titles in 2000 and 2001. A few of those teams were led by superstar Jared Uhlman and his 81 touchdowns and 3,500 rushing yards.
All-world running back Clayton Powman came along in 2010 and tore the eight-man record books apart, amassing nearly 150 touchdowns and almost 8,000 career rushing yards.
It’s time to finally shake off the disappointing honeymoon and catapult themselves into Class 1A respectability.
Returning to his roots was the biggest pull for Matthewson. Every program has its potential to shine.
“I’ve said this from day one, there’s nothing that really compares to small town Iowa on a Friday night,” the coach said. “I don’t know what it is exactly but the whole feeling of knowing the whole town shuts down. Getting up the next day and everyone you run into, they know how the game went. I missed that feeling in Kansas City.
You didn’t have that community involvement. I can guarantee you the community (here) is embracing everything. It’s going to be an exciting day and it’s coming fast.”
That specialness of Iowa Friday Night
The enthusiasm began almost from the moment Matthewson took over. The roster nearly doubled in sized to 45, with new athletes giving football a try again. That added depth should come in handy once the season begins.
“We’ve really embedded it into these guys showing them what we can do and it’s starting to click,” Matthewson said. “It’s all about the little things. We have the athletes, we have a good team. Now it’s how you apply it.
These are two historic programs that have won a lot of games over the years. The kids are hungry and you can see it in their eyes.”
Discipline and an innate attention to detail is what the coach believes will set his program apart. Talent can often figure itself out, but a will to outwork the guy on the other side of the ball is something that certainly can be taught, the coach said. His coaching philosophy is based off a three-pronged approach.
“We are going to be the most conditioned team on the field at all times and it has nothing to do with how smart you are, where you’ve come from or what you’ve done in the past,” Matthewson said. “It’s all discipline and effort.”
Taking that a bit further, the first-year coach knows games aren’t won merely by giving a strong effort. It takes patience and attention to detail.
“We are always going to be the most disciplined team on the field,” he said. “We are always going to know the play, the snap count and where we need to be at all times, which gives us an advantage mentally within the game.
Our third piece of our platform is we are never going to give up, no matter the situation.”
The Chargers are slotted in Class 1A, District 8 for the next two years. They’ll match up against familiar West Central Activities Conference foes West Central Valley and Panorama, while also doing battle with defending champion Van Meter, riding a 26-game winning streak. Clarinda and Mount Ayr round out the district.
The Chargers return junior quarterback Bryce Littler as well as senior running back Ben Kingery, who picked up 105 carries a season ago. Littler will have four of his top five targets returning from last fall while the Charger defense only lost two of its top seven tacklers.
AC/GC opens their 2018 campaign Friday at home against IKM-Manning, a playoff-team from a season ago. The Wolves have to replace their starting quarterback and their two best pass catchers. They do return a 1.000-yard back in Stephen Grimm, who scored 18 touchdowns, amassing 1,083 yards.
Kick-off is set for 7 p.m. in Guthrie Center.