The signature play of Matt Guida’s astounding junior season looked like a split-second decision, but was actually days in the making.
As Queen Creek’s junior running back watched film with offensive line coach Travis Schureman, it was apparent Division III semifinal foe-Nogales liked to tackle runners by diving at their legs.
“The whole week before he kept reminding me to keep your knees high, to keep your feet up. because they bite ankles,” Guida said. “So I said, ‘Coach, would you get mad at me if I hurdled somebody?’ He said, ‘Not if you make it. But you better make it.’”
That was enough permission.
On his fourth run of the game, Guida broke into the second level of the defense and a safety flew at him. With no room to maneuver right or left, it was time. Guida rose up and hurdled the defender, came down, dodged a couple more would-be tacklers and finished with a 61-yard gain.
“There are a handful of moments during the season where he did something and you almost become a fan at that point,” Queen Creek coach Joe Germaine said. “That was a play right there.”
It wasn’t the longest run of the season for Guida, but it was symbolic of the way he treated defenses. The Bulldogs’ driving force finished the season with 204 carries for a state-best 2,829 yards and 31 touchdowns in being the Tribune’s Football Player of the Year. Guida averaged 13.87 yards per carry, better than any player in the state who carried the ball at least 10 times per game.
Guida led the Bulldogs to a 14-0 record and their first state championship in school history, but has a hard time explaining his seemingly natural ability to find gaps in the defense.
“Something just takes over me,” he said. “I don’t think. I don’t breathe, even. I just run. Some plays I’ll get up after a really good run, and I’m like, ‘Holy crap, did I really just do that?’”
When Guida took over as the starting running back for Queen Creek midway through his sophomore season, Germaine was just happy to find a “home run” threat. Too many times, the team could churn out 15- or-20 yard gains but not turn them into long touchdowns.
Guida brought that element, but he wasn’t content being just a speedster. He packed on 27 pounds of muscle and grew an inch in just three and a half months.
And the newly built 5-foot-11, 190-pounder was not only bigger and stronger, but he became faster.
Everyone at Queen Creek knew what was about to be unleashed, and soon every opponent found out. Guida ran for at least 100 yards and a touchdown in every game, and eclipsed the 200-yard mark in eight of the team’s 14 games.
“We knew coming into this year we had a great player,” Germaine said.
Guida isn’t done. While the team and individual success were unparalleled at the high school level, he wants to play in college, and isn’t getting the desired recruiting buzz.
So he’s going back into the weight room.
“I was almost a new player this year,” he said. “I was always used to being the little guy but with the new size and strength I would almost always break that first tackle. It might sound a little ridiculous, but I’ll probably grow another inch and I’m looking to be 205-to-210 (pounds) and hopefully pick more speed up. If I put another 20 on, I could probably have another monster year.”
Division III: you’ve been warned.