When Matt Porter first went to college right out of high school, he took some bad advice, and going against his gut instinct, he was pursuing a degree in industrial electricity. However, he said, once his wife was starting to do well in her career, she encouraged him to finish his coaching degree.
“It was the biggest blessing of my life,” Porter said. “There is not a day that goes by that I regret going to work. I have always been very passionate about sports and passionate about helping kids. It really was a dream come true.”
Porter was officially named the new head football coach for Atkins High School on Aug. 10. He has been with the district for seven years, serving as the head junior high football coach and as an assistant varsity football coach, including the last two seasons as defensive coordinator. He replaces former head coach Tommy Cody, who retired after being the coach for nine years.
“Matt is high-character, hardworking and really a sharp guy,” Cody said. “He did a great job as our junior high coach and has been our defensive coordinator for two seasons. Matt stepped in and did a fantastic job.
“Matt is a really good person and a good football coach.”
Cody said he decided to retire after earning an opportunity to work for Farm Bureau Insurance. “With all the craziness going on right now [with COVID-19], it seemed like a good time for me to get out,” he said.
Porter said Cody’s son, Beau, will be a senior this year on the football team and that Beau can line up at the slot position or tight-end position on offense and is a defensive end on the other side of the ball.
“Coach Cody has a whole lot of years of experience, and I have picked up little nuances from him during our time together,” Porter said. “Coaches are some of the biggest thieves in the world, and if you aren’t learning in this profession, then you aren’t trying very hard.”
This is Porter’s first head varsity coaching job for football, but he was named the head softball coach for Atkins in the spring. He replaced Tracey Brown, who stepped away from the position after her daughter graduated. Porter also served as head softball coach at Rose Bud High School prior to his time at Atkins.
“He will do great as the new football coach,” said Darrell Webb, the athletic director for the Atkins School District. “He knows the system, and he will do fine.
“We took into account the situation we are in now, with COVID-19, and we weren’t sure how practice would go with the kids if we brought in someone brand new with a whole new system. Coach Porter was a logical choice, and he will do great.”
“It means a lot to me to be the new head football coach,” Porter said. “I have so many supporters in my corner rooting for me to go ahead and do this.
“I did not apply for this position at first, but the administration and the school board were really behind me and encouraged me to pursue it. I really love the community, the school and the players. It was a big opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.”
Porter is originally from Prescott, having graduated from high school in 1994. He eventually graduated from the University of Central Arkansas in Conway with a bachelor’s degree in 2007 and earned a master’s degree from the University of Arkansas at Monticello in 2017. Cody said that when he hired Porter, one thing that stood out to him was their similar philosophy toward football.
“We shared the same ideas and mindset and how you go about playing offense,” Cody said. “We were both Spread guys, and we both came from the Tony Franklin System. We both learned that style and system, and [Matt’s] terminology was similar to what we used.
“It was an easy choice. … It just worked out well for everyone.”
Cody said that with Porter being hired, one of the best things is the fact that there are not going to be a lot of wholesale changes. He said the kids already know Porter’s personality, and “they understand where he is coming from.”
“The transition is really going to be seamless,” Cody said.
Atkins has about 26 players on the roster, which Porter said is pretty normal for the district, at least in the seven years he has been there. He said having smaller numbers, during this pandemic, has equal problems than one might face at a larger school.
“At a smaller school, yes, we have fewer players, but we also have a smaller staff than a big school,” Porter said. “But I can see all 26 kids and make sure what we are doing is correct. We have had many meetings explaining the guidelines and what we have to follow, when we have to stay apart and when we can start hitting each other.
“We want to make sure the kids understand the expectations we have as a staff.”
Webb said he and Porter, and the rest of the staff, meet regularly to establish “things we can and can’t do, according to the health guidelines and the [Arkansas Activities Association] guidelines.” He said they did have one athlete test positive for COVID-19, and they reported it to the health department, and practice was able to resume after a few days.
Porter, who has asthma, said he is taking the recommended guidelines very seriously. He does not want to contract COVID-19 because with his underlying condition, the disease could affect him more than others.
“We have been following the letter of the law,” Porter said. “We passed out water bottles and encouraged everyone to bring [their bottle] full every day. We have to make sure our kids are hydrated.
“The simple fact is, no one wants to end up with a case [of COVID-19] on their hands. We don’t our players to get it, and we don’t want a coach to get it.”
Nevertheless, as far the game of football is concerned, Porter said, the goals remain the same.
“One, we play Dover in Week 1, and this is a rival game. It is one of our biggest games,” he said. “The trophy has been in our possession for the last couple of years.
“And two, we want to play for a conference championship, and the second season starts when you get to the playoffs, so once we get there, then we start talking about our expectations for the playoffs.”
Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or email@example.com.