Wall QB Matt Cluley Grateful for Gridiron Classic After Injury-Plagued Senior Season
HAZLET - Between a productive summer, a full year as a starter under his belt and a group of experienced skill players returning, everything was in place for Matt Cluley to have a big senior year as Wall's quarterback.
Before the first quarter of the season opener was even over, it all went up in smoke.
"There's not a night that I go to bed without thinking what could've been,'' Cluley said before Monmouth County's U.S. Army All-Shore Gridiron Classic practice at Raritan on Wednesday.
"It's one of those scenarios that I'm always going to think back and say, 'What if?'''
Cluley was tackled awkwardly in the opening period of an eventual 20-7 loss to Red Bank and suffered a dislocated elbow on his throwing arm. He knew the second he got up and saw his arm at an unnatural angle that the dream of a big senior season had just disappeared.
"It was a tough scenario to deal with, but I just kept thinking positively and did everything I could to get back out there,'' he said.
He underwent therapy daily and worked regularly with his trainer at Elite Sports Physical Therapy in Tinton Falls in order to return to the lineup by Wall's fifth game of the season against Brick.
However, he didn't even make it until halftime before he suffered a right ankle injury that nagged him for weeks as Wall sunk to 1-4 in a 19-0 loss on its way to a 4-6 season. He ended up skipping Wall's NJSIAA consolation game win over Somerville in order to rest for the only full game he played all season - Wall's Thanksgiving showdown against Manasquan.
Cluley threw for three touchdowns as the Crimson Knights won a wild 43-35 game over their longtime rival to give him at least a sliver of satisfaction in a frustrating year.
"That was the one game you circle on the calendar,'' he said. "You want to be able to play in that."
Cluley will now get one final chance to show off his skills for the Monmouth County squad in Thursday's 39th annual U.S. Army All-Shore Gridiron Classic at 7 p.m. at Central Regional's Joseph J. Boyd Memorial Field.
"It feels great to have another shot to go out and prove myself with my senior year cut short,'' he said. "It gives me another opportunity to go out in front of everyone and show them I belong with the best."
Cluley joins Middletown South's Matt Mosquera as a signal-caller for Monmouth County, which will try to stop a two-game skid against its counterparts from Ocean County. Considering he had four different offensive coordinators in his four years at Wall, picking up Raritan's pro-style offense that will be employed by Monmouth County under coach Anthony Petruzzi has not fazed him.
It also doesn't hurt that he has a talented group of wideouts, including his old AAU basketball teammate, Red Bank graduate and UMass recruit Sadiq Palmer.
"It's great coming out here throwing with the best,'' he said. "It's been cool to meet the guys you used to want to beat so badly and realize they're just regular kids like you."
Cluley is eager to start his career at Wagner College, where he will be the second Cluley currently in the college ranks. His older brother, Steve, is a former Wall star going into his senior season as the starting quarterback at FCS power William & Mary.
However, before he focuses on the next step in the journey, he has one chance to fill that void of memories from a senior season that went awry.
"I was thrilled that after all the injuries and stuff that I was still recognized as one of the top guys and that meant a lot to me as far as everything I'd been through,'' he said. "I just want to prove that I deserve to be here."