Richmond Hill High School football coach Matt LeZotte lives by a simple rule — FFF
That’s faith, family and football, although the former James Madison University quarterback admits that during football season it can be difficult to keep the priorities in that order.
LeZotte is married to Lindsay—they just celebrated their fifth anniversary—and have two daughters, Lucy, 4, and Alice, 1.
"Lindsay married a football coach and she knew she was marrying a football coach and all that comes with it. For better or worse. She knows what that means. She knows that being football coach isn’t a 9 to 5 job. I have long nights and get called away sometimes when I’m not planning to be called away. I have a yearly calendar that I try to stick by.
"I couldn’t have done anything I’ve done since I’ve been married without her."
Lezotte was born and reared in Augusta. He credits his father, Jerry, and mother, Patty, with being the "two major influences" in his life.
"They taught me respect and accountability. My mom said every single day before we went to school, ‘Yes ma’m, no ma’m, please and thank you.’ Every day she said that. Not one day was ever skipped and she’ll still say it to this day every now and then. I’ve always been complimented on my manners and it is because of my mom and what she taught me. My parents taught me to be respectful in everything I do.
"My dad taught me about hard work and accountability. Those are probably the best attributes they gave me. Now that I look back on it, they probably gave me more freedom than I probably realized at the time. My mom always said nothing good ever happens after midnight."
LeZotte left Augusta after high school in 2000 and went to James Madison University in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. He majored in kinesiology and sport management. Kinesiology, the coach says, is the study of movement and in his case, it related to sports.
LeZotte was the starting quarterback for two years and team captain for three years for the Madison ‘Dukes’ and was part of the team that won the national Football Championship Subdivision in Division I-AA his senior year in 2004.
"I had no idea I was going to be a teacher or coach at that time. I graduated from JMU with a sport management degree. I really had no idea what I was going to be. I was sitting there in spring of 2005 and I’m doing an internship at Madison in facilities management.
"I got a call about a job opening in a pharmaceutical company in Johnson City, Tennessee. I took the job and my territory was down to western North Carolina, Tennessee and southwest Virginia. I did that for two years.
"So I left my internship early. I had a job offer and wasn’t going to miss that."
"I was still going back and forth to Madison to watch my brother, Tony, play football on the weekends. Tony and I played on the same Madison team for two years. Tony was the only four-time All American in the history of college football. When I watched him play him play free safety, I just couldn’t get football out of my system. I had buddies of mine that were coaching football. I had a couple of offers to go and coach small college football teams."
LeZotte ultimately moved back to Augusta and got a call from a friend at Aquinas High School, where an assistant football coach position had become available. He started substitute teaching at Aquinas and accepted the coaching position—his first foray into football coaching.
"The head coach at Aquinas resigned and took a position in Ohio. I told the principal that I wanted the job. And I got it."
During his his six years at Aquinas—four as the head coach—the team improved dramatically.
LeZotte left Aquinas in April 2013 to take a head coaching position at Wayne County.
"I was still living in Augusta and going back and forth to Augusta with Lindsay and a one month old baby."
He coached for the Wayne County Yellow Jackets for two years before deciding to take the helm at Richmond Hill.
"Stacy Bennett is one reason I’m here at Richmond Hill. He coaches baseball and I’ve known him for 20 years. I talked to him and he said the situation was good here and I wanted to be part of it. Stacey told me Richmond Hill could be a winner and I believed that. So I applied and got the job.
"Football in Richmond Hill has a bright future. I was hired to establish and build a program here. Georgia is, arguably, the top high school football state in the country. It takes a lot of people working together to have a successful program. That support starts at the top with school leadership. I’ve been lucky to work with our principal, Debi McNeal. She has backed me 100 percent. It takes other coaches and it takes parents. It takes a commitment by the kids on the team. Having a successful football program has a lot of moving parts and we’ve got that here."
What some other football coaches might call the minutiae—the small things about football—build a winning program, he says.
"Taking care of the small things makes the big picture come together."
High school football has almost turned into a year-round process, he said.
"Sometimes during post planning(in May and early June) after the kids are out, we start lifting weights. So there isn’t much of a break.
"That’s part of what it takes to build a winning program. I think it’s going to be hard to find a seat in the stands this year. We’ve got 26 seniors on the team. It’s going to be s special year for Wildcat football."
He said he’d like to hunt and fish for relaxation but there just isn’t much time in his schedule, although he would like to improve his golf game.
"I love playing golf but I don’t play very much now. I’ve got football in my blood."