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A football player first

Missouri kicker Matt Hoenes wrestled with the idea of joining the Marines like his sister, Amanda. Instead, Matt came to play for the Tigers, and his sister flies helicopters in Iraq.
Friday, November 5, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:49 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Roger and Sheri Hoenes only wanted to know the details and make sure all the questions had answers.

Otherwise, they would not have accompanied their son, Matt, to the local Marines recruitment office.

In the fall of his senior year at Branson High, Matt, who is the punter on the Missouri football team, had decided to join the split reserve program. He hadn’t, though, told his parents about the serious discussions he had with the recruiters. On the day he planned to sign up, he told his parents.

“His first aspiration was to play college football, but he got excited about the Marines,” Sheri said. “The Marine recruiters continued to visit him and go to his sporting events and were talking to him about the split reserve program.

“It sounded very enticing to Matt, but we didn’t even know about it until the day he was about to sign. So we kind of talked him into letting us (go with him).”

After a short question-and-answer session with a Marine recruiter, Matt decided not to immediately sign. A question his parents posed to the recruiters created some doubt in his mind: “What happens if war breaks out during college football season?”

“They said, ‘You’re first a Marine, and you would go. You would not go back to school or football until we were done with you,’ ” Sheri said. “And I think that kind of opened up Matt’s eyes to, ‘I need to decide my priorities here.’ ”

Although he wanted to serve his country, he had a dream to play college football. Then Concordia (Neb.) University stepped in and helped settle the dilemma.

“I had my mind up that, yeah, I wanted to do it,” Matt said. “I don’t know what it was, but I decided to wait a little bit. And shortly after that, I received some information from Concordia, the first college I went to, that they would give me some scholarship. So I decided, ‘Well, maybe that’s right for me at that time.’ ”

Matt spent a year at Concordia before transferring to Missouri. He walked on to the scout team to play running back, which he played in high school.

Several concussions near the end of last season prevented him from playing that position, but it provided him the opportunity to punt. After senior Brock Harvey broke his left collarbone against Colorado, Matt became the Tigers’ No. 1 punter.

“As a mom, I kind of feel like it worked out,” Sheri said. “I feel like there was some divine intervention, maybe, that night. I think Matt thinks he made the right decision, looking back at it. Although I’ve asked him, ‘What if you had signed up that night?’ He usually shrugs and says, ‘I would’ve gone. I would have lived with my decision.’ ”

Matt’s desire to join the Marines didn’t come from his parents or grandparents. None of them have served in the military. The idea came from his sister, Amanda, a 23-year old crew chief of a CH-46 helicopter. Matt said she is stationed about eight miles outside of Fallujah, Iraq.

“I was almost right behind her, which to be able to serve my country would be very good,” Matt said. “I definitely respect the fact that she is. That’s an amazingly heroic feat for her, just so inspirational for me back here, doing what I’m doing, and then seeing what she’s doing.”

Matt’s willingness to follow his sister into the military highlights the kind of relationship they have. It also conveys the amount of respect he has.

“(The pride) is unexplainable,” he said. “I mean, yeah, I’m playing football back here. And friends and family hear that and they’re like, ‘Wow, that’s something else.’ I can’t compare myself to her because I just have so much respect for her and what she’s doing.”

While Matt considered joining the Marines because of his sister, she saw the Marines as a personal challenge. She spent a year at Missouri, but after a friend died in a motorcycle accident, she decided she needed to accomplish something in her life.

“She had tried a year of college and decided she was too restless, didn’t know what she wanted to do or be,” Sheri said.

“I heard her tell somebody that (losing the friend) made her start thinking about that we need to do something with our life and make it worthwhile because life is too short.

“She said she was out driving around one day and saw the Marine sign and decided to go in and to talk to them, and I guess she signed up that day and has not looked back since then.”

Sheri said she sees the same attitude in Matt.

“He has goals and motivations and inspirations and takes on challenges, but they are more personal with him and quieter,” she said. “He doesn’t make a big deal about it. He just goes after it. His sister is a little thing, 5-foot-2, but she’s kind of a spitfire. Somebody gives her a dare and she’ll go after it.”

Amanda went to Iraq at the beginning of the war, and she has been busy since arriving there. During some of the heaviest combat, she flew some casualty evacuations from Baghdad.

Because it marked the family’s first direct exposure to the military, it was difficult for the family to adjust to and deal with the war.

“I would say last year was the toughest because it was new and we had to learn to trust, kind of let go,” Sheri said. “Otherwise, you’d go crazy trying to worry about them.”

Amanda is scheduled to finish her five-year stint in the Marines in 2005, and when she returns, she’ll have an easier time keeping up to date on her brother’s progress as a punter.


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