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By Mike D’Abate
In the Walt Disney classic, Pinocchio, the character of Jiminy Cricket eloquently sings a song that has become representative of achieving that which is seemingly insurmountable. Appropriately titled, “When you Wish Upon a Star,” the following lyric is particularly poignant: “If your heart is in your dream…no request is too extreme…”
For Rhode Island native and professional football hopeful Matt Sewall, both the song and the sentiment are aptly significant. He is about to live his dream; and he is doing so in a city that is well-known for making dreams come true…Orlando, Florida.
Here in Smithfield, we know Matt as a star wide receiver for the Bryant University Bulldogs. However, his journey towards the professional gridiron began in Portsmouth. Playing the position of quarterback, for Portsmouth High School, he was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Rhode Island as a senior. Upon attending Bryant, Sewall made the switch to wide receiver. Throughout his time with the Bulldogs, he amassed 100 receptions for 1,219 yards and 15 touchdowns. Sewall also made his mark carrying the football, as well as on special teams in returning punts and kicks. Empowered by a stellar collegiate campaign, he chose to pursue a career in playing professional football.
During his NFL Pro Day workout at Bryant on March 20, 2018, Sewall put forth a very impressive performance. Having seen the athletic prowess that he can bring to the table, In the process, he garnered the attention of some NFL teams. Despite going undrafted at the 2018 NFL Draft, two teams (the New York Jets and the Houston Texans) invited him for a workout.
While the workouts did not yield him an NFL contract, Sewall remained undaunted in his quest. No stranger to hard work and perseverance, he was determined to play professional football. His experience in training with professionals taught him that he can compete at the highest level.
“Absolutely, there were a lot of lessons learned from the Jets and Texans workouts. I was incredibly fortunate to showcase my skill set to these NFL teams. I am very appreciative of my on-field experiences, as well as all the conversations with current players and coaches. For certain, I learned a lot about what being pro entails on a day-to-day basis.”
In September, opportunity finally knocked. The Alliance of American Football (a new professional league founded by former Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian and television executive Charlie Ebersol) held its inaugural positional draft. Sewall was drafted by the Orlando Apollos. He subsequently signed a three-year deal to play in the league, whose season starts in February, just after the NFL’s Super Bowl. Sewall faces a rewarding task in playing for renowned coach Steve Spurrier, who won a national title with the University of Florida in 1996.
While he is hopeful that this path may lead him to once unfathomable heights, the recent Bryant graduate has his feet planted firmly on the ground. It is often an uphill battle for native New Englanders to achieve professional success, due to a lack of national attention on New England college football. Despite that, Sewall consistently demonstrates the desire to prove the doubters wrong and show everyone what Rhode Island can do on the grandest stage. Having played all of his football in Rhode Island (for Portsmouth and Bryant,) Sewall is keenly aware of the Ocean State’s place in the national football landscape:
“I do believe that Rhode Island should get more credit for the football talent that it has produced. My brother Bobby (Sewall) played for the Tennessee Titans, after a great career at Brown University. I owe all my knowledge of how to handle life as a pro athlete to him. Mike Cloud is a product of Portsmouth that played great in the NFL, including for the New England Patriots for a brief time. Bishop Hendricken High School (attended by former NFL cornerback Will Blackmon) and East Providence High School (attended by former NFL safety Jamie Silva) have developed some great pro football players. Those players have been very supportive of me, and I appreciate that. As a result, I want to make them proud each time I take the field. I want to carry on that tradition. I’m proud to be an Orlando Apollo and am eager to get going.”
While he will always hold Portsmouth in his heart, Sewall is deeply appreciative of his time at Bryant, and in the Smithfield community. His pride in his home state and the family values with which he was raised, have made him realize that his lasting success will be as (if not more) determined by his actions off the field. When concluding our recent conversation, Sewall said:
“Being a Rhode Islander is like a belonging to a close-knit family and I just want to make the State proud. If I am fortunate enough to make the Apollos, I hope to use my platform to help give back to the community. Bryant University and the Town of Smithfield were great to me, and I will always do what I can to help at home…whether it be Portsmouth, Smithfield or Orlando.”
From one Rhode Islander to another, Matt…you have already earned the respect of so many Rhode Islanders and football fans alike…both on and off the field. Keep wishing on that star. Your heart is truly in your dream.