INDIANAPOLIS — Matt Hennessy’s dream of one day playing in the NFL is closer to reality.
This week, at the NFL Combine, teams are taking a close look at Hennessy as one of the top center prospects — the former Temple starter and Don Bosco Prep standout is a potential day-two pick in April’s NFL Draft.
And on this massive stage, the Rockland County native still looks back to his days in North Jersey for inspiration that he can play at the highest level.
“I think it goes back to high school, playing at Don Bosco Prep in New Jersey, playing against guys like Nick Bosa and Rashan Gary.” Hennessey said this week with a laugh.
“And, like, while those matchups weren’t favorable for me in high school, I definitely saw that I could compete with those guys and at the college level I saw it even more.”
Hennessy would be thrilled to play for whatever team drafts him. But his ties to the New York area would make being drafted by the Jets or the Giants extra special.
“It would be incredible,” Hennessy said. I grew up a huge Giants fan, had season tickets, went to every game through probably like 2010. So that would be incredible.”
And the Jets? Well, Hennessy has perhaps an even bigger incentive to play for them. His brother, Thomas, is the team’s long-snapper — in October he signed an extension through the 2023 season.
“We’re super-close,” Matt said of Thomas. “We used to fight a ton when we were younger, just because we’re both really competitive … He’s kind of been one of my biggest influences throughout my teenage years, coming to where I am now.”
Thomas is four years older than Matt and had a different road to get to the NFL. He played at Duke and went undrafted, eventually signing with the Colts. The Jets traded for Hennessy in late August 2017, just weeks before the start of the regular season. And he’s been their long-snapper since.
Matt Hennessy hasn’t been able to get advice from his brother about the pre-draft process, because their experience has been much different.
“There was no combine or Senior Bowl for him, so with this part, I’m kind of on my own,” Hennessy said, but he’s still gotten advice from his brother.
“Just the business side of the NFL,” Hennessy said. “[He told me] how the organizations operate and how you essentially just need to add value to an organization. That’s how you remain on the roster.”
Hennessy has had an interesting road to get to this point. He wasn’t a center at Don Bosco, but a right tackle who didn’t draw a lot of interest from college recruiters.
“I think colleges saw me as a tackle, but just a small one,” said the 6-4, 307-pound Hennessy.
But then he was invited to a recruiting camp at Temple and everything changed when then-coach Matt Rhule took notice of him.
“Coach Rhule actually found me, during one of the one-on-one sessions and ended up offering me a scholarship,” Hennessy said. “He was like, ‘I know you’re playing tackle now, but you have the ideal skill-set for a center.’”
Hennessy is still too small to be a center in the NFL. But he believes he has the skill-set to play guard — which he did for one game in college — and is confident he could fit into that role right away. That versatility should help his stock with several teams.
As for a reunion with Rhule, he says he hasn’t met with the new Panthers coach this week. But he did see his former college coach and some of his assistants.
“It was real weird, seeing them,” Hennessy said. “They’ve all got the Panthers stuff on and four years ago we were sitting at my dining room table … It’s weird crossing paths again.”