Salutatorian Matt Willis living best of two worlds

Mark Wilson
Matt Willis is the salutatorian of the Glen Rose High School graduating Class of 2017.

If someone told Matt Willis he had to chose between being a brain or a jock, he might just ask why.

Willis has consistently been both at Glen Rose High School, and now wants to continue on that path in college.

He is closing out his senior year graduating as the salutatorian of the Class of 2017 with a weighted grade-point average of 102.822.

His father, Elvin, is an engineer for Lockheed in Fort Worth, and Willis decided to attend Trinity University, a private liberal arts school in San Antonio. It has a quality engineering school that Willis chose after also considering Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and Purdue University, both in Indiana, and Southern Methodist in Dallas.

As an athlete, Willis achieved honorable mention from the Associated Press Sports Editors Class 3A All-State football team as a 6-1, 250-pound offensive lineman his senior year. He was a key blocker for the Tigers, who won the District 4-4A championship and reached the third round of the playoffs.

Willis was equally impressive in the classroom, where he loved math and science — and it showed when he earned Elite Academic All-State recognition.

“Math, especially, was a lot easier for me compared to history or English,” said Willis, who lives with his parents, Elvin and Laura, near Granbury. “I had good teachers.”

He cited Shayla Hoffman in that category. She taught him math, calculus, pre-calculus and Algebra II.

He wanted to continue playing football in college if possible, but he was more focused on making the right decision academically. He knew that most linemen his size won’t end up as a highly paid professional football player.

“I’ve always known school is what will get you the money,” Willis said. “I’m not tall enough and I’m not big enough to be some sort of pro athlete. And I didn’t want to put that strain on my body.”

Trinity competes in NCAA Division III football, as does Rose-Hulman. Willis was accepted into all four of the schools he was considering, but he was most interested in Trinity.

“I talked to them and they said “We know academics is the focus. I wouldn’t even look at a college if I knew academics wouldn’t be what I was focused on. Trinity and Rose-Hulman both had great academics, and great athletic facilities. The people at Trinity were nicer.”

Willis said he plans to major in engineering sciences at Trinity.

He said the decision-making process was “a little stressful,” and the costs were an unavoidable factor. The lower in-state tuition at Trinity made a huge difference.

“All of the schools are private except Purdue, so I needed to get as much money as possible,” Willis said. “I was a little anxious trying to figure out which one would give me the best opportunity, and which one would prepare me the most for getting a job when I get out of college. But I think I made the right choice. It can be a little rough sometimes, but I had a lot of fun doing it.”

Once he becomes an engineer, he already has a specific career goal in mind.

“What I’m really interested in is working on prosthetic limbs that would connect to your brain,” he said. “I can’t wait. I’m really excited.”

In addition to playing football, Willis lettered in track and powerlifting — qualifying for the regional meet in both — and even dabbled in playing tennis for the Tigers as a senior.

He even got involved in leadership programs in school, and helped at a food pantry.

“I like helping people,” Willis said. “I’m excited that the career I’m choosing gives me that opportunity.’

First, of course, comes the juggling and balancing act between all of his interests.

“Mainly it’s a self-discipline,” said Willis, who got into a routine of studying after getting home from football practice by about 6:30 or 7 each night in the fall. “Really, you can’t put stuff off.”