Seymour boys’ soccer coach Matt Dennis has an unwavering love for “the beautiful game.”
Dennis played soccer in Greencastle, starting at 4-years-old up until the seventh grade, when his family moved to Seymour. He played for the Seymour Cyclones, and for the Owls when he got into high school.
He graduated from Seymour High School in 2000 and was the Owls’ regular goalie when they advanced to the semistate in 1999.
He earned All-Hoosier Hills Conference honors that fall, was academic All-State his junior and senior years, and voted outstanding defender by his teammates his senior season.
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Dennis said he had an offer to play soccer at Franklin College but chose to go to Ball State University.
After graduating from BSU, Dennis returned to Seymour, and helped as an assistant coach under Shaun Mahoney for two years.
“I had spoken with Coach Mahoney while I was in college about coming back and teaching and coaching here,” Dennis said. “That was kind of how it was set up — that I was coming back to be his assistant. For two years I was his assistant before he moved on to Franklin.”
Dennis was then an assistant to Will Smith for two years before stepping away from coaching the Owls for four years.
He coached premier level girls’ club teams in Columbus before taking on the head coaching job with the Owls, and he’s now in his seventh season as head coach at Seymour.
He said he has taken advice and information from each of the coaches he has worked with and applied it to his coaching philosophy.
“I had to learn a lot of different styles,” Dennis said. “The way we played my first three years of high school (under Dan Drummond) was different than when I played my fourth year under coach Mahoney,” Dennis said. “When Mahoney had me back as an assistant, the game had evolved even more.
“Coaching under (Mahoney) was even different than how he coached us to play my senior season. When I went to coach club, girls are not the same as guys in the way they learn the game and the way they play the game, so I had yet a different mindset, so basically all of the different experiences I’ve had has led to a really deep understanding of the game.”
Over the years since he became head coach, Dennis has seen more of the importance of possessing the ball, and using different formations.
“There’s a much greater emphasis on possession and playing out of the back,” he said. “It used to be years ago, when a defender or the goalie got the ball, we would kick it as far as we could and try and win that ball and then advance.
“Now, it’s more when you win the ball in the back you need to pass to a teammate and start your possession in the defensive third so you can build an attack and bring extra guys into the play”
This is the second season for the Owls to play their home matches on turf, but Dennis said he hasn’t changed his coaching style.
“It’s faster, but we’ve always been a faster team,” he said. “The fact that we get to play on turf I think helps us just because it matches our style. We didn’t adjust to the turf. I think we learned how to use it really well. We were already doing things that were going to be good on turf.
“As far as the games go, since they built the facility we’re unbeaten on the road. We haven’t lost a road game since 2015.”
Dennis likes the way the game is played today.
“I don’t think the game is dangerous,” Dennis said. “I don’t think there’s any safety factor that needs to be addressed. If you get a concussion in soccer it’s most likely because your head hit the ground, and even with a helmet that’s not going to keep you safe.
“The concussions in soccer are not because of heading the ball, especially if you tech proper technique. We don’t train it a ton because our guys know how to do it. As far as physicality goes, in some matches that we play it’s less physical than it used to be. Even when I played there were games that were extremely physical and you fought for every single ball, and if you had the ball you knew you were going to get fouled.
“Now, you’ve got a lot more teams in high school that are actually playing a better brand of soccer, so that that means they’re not diving in on tackles, they’re not slide tackling from behind. They’re actually trying to stay on their feet and win the ball so once they win it they can counter. When that’s the case you’re not going to have as physical a game.”
The Cyclones travel program has been a big help to the high school teams.
“When I took the job I became director of coaching for the club and I gave clear directions in certain age groups: I want to see these skills out of players, so we have a better idea of where players should be every year that they progress,” Dennis said. “This is a players’ game, it’s not a coaches game, so when something happens out on the field it may be something we do in a training session, but it’s the players applying the knowledge, it’s not me telling them what to do get the goal or what to do to get it out of the goal.”
“When I see these players think on the field, when I see them problem-solve because of tactics that we talk about in practice, that’s what I love about the game. Our travel coaches have started to do less coaching from the sidelines and letting the kids figure out the game and put them in situations where they can problem solve and that’s going to make us even better down the road.
While Dennis-coached teams have found success in the last few years, he has big expectations for the program.
“Until we win sectionals it’s not where we want to be,” Dennis said. “We’re close. Every year we’ve gotten better. When I got the job we were right at .500. Three years ago we won the Batesville Invitational and that was milestone. The year after that was the first double-digit wins under me. Last year was the first outright conference champion ever for us. We got to 12 regular-season wins last year, which I think is the most ever.”
The school has won 14 matches twice, including Dennis’ senior year when they went to the semi-state. They won 10 matches during the regular season.
Dennis said he gets along well with the girls’ program and Coach Greg Musser.
“Greg and I talk a lot about training sessions,” Dennis said. “We talk a lot about games. We run ideas by each other. I’d be hard pressed to find any program where the boys and girls get along as well as our boys and girls do. They gave us a tremendous crowd against Columbus East. We returned the favor, we brought the whole boys team to the Batesville game. It’s great to see the teams come together.”
Matt and his wife, Amanda, have three children: Dominic, 10, Caroline, 8, and Penelope, 5.
Dennis said this past Saturday his children played soccer matches in three different cities, and he was at home coaching the Owls against Oldenburg Academy.
“They grew up around it, they love playing it,” he said of his children. “They have a blast with their friends.”