Everything has changed for Matt McDonough. Life has changed. His looks have changed. Soccer has changed. And all for the better.
The senior forward experienced a number of life changes over the summer. He can't say, though, whether that has anything to do with his best season ever for Pacific, which has been the catalyst behind the Boxers' best campaign since 1998.
'I have a shaved head and I'm married,' laughed McDonough when asked what had changed from the previous season when Pacific won just two matches. 'I don't know what it is this year. I'm just finding the back of the net.'
When he was single and sporting a full, spiky mop of black hair, McDonough scored just three goals in a lackluster 2005 season. Two of those goals were gifts presented in the form of penalty kicks.
This season, after marrying his wife, Ashley, in August and shaving his head clean, McDonough has pulled off a reverse Samson.
He scored his seventh and eighth goals of the year in a 3-1 road victory over Willamette Saturday, pulling him into a three-way tie for top goal scoring honors in the Northwest Conference. The total is more than he scored in the last two seasons combined.
He has three game-winning goals to his credit, and earlier in the season he was named the conference's Offensive Player of the Week and to the D3Kicks.com National Team of the Week. More importantly, McDonough has led the Boxers to a 7-2-1 record and within one point of defending champion Whitworth in the league standings.
The only on-field change that the Fairbanks, Alaska, native can finger is a change in the coaching staff. Head coach Jim Brazeau gave up his co-coaching duties with the women's team to focus solely on the men. Brazeau then added longtime Portland-area club coach Jim Rilatt, who McDonough describes as a defensive genius.
'Every halftime (Rilatt) sees exactly what has been going on and then we make improvements upon that,' McDonough said. 'He is one of the best coaches I have ever played for in my life.'
The admiration is mutual from the boisterous Rilatt, who is impressed by McDonough's work rate and stamina.
'Matt has played every game and every minute as hard as any player I have ever been around,' Rilatt said. 'Jim and I both agree that he has become the most dangerous player in the conference.'
McDonough's offensive output has taken away some of the light-hearted grief teammates give him for being the team's 'old married man,' but it also gives him pause to focus on the balance he has to have to make it all work. Going to college and playing a varsity sport is hard enough. Adding a marriage to the mix just makes his balancing act all the tougher.
'I have so much to learn and I haven't figured it all out yet,' McDonough said. 'It takes work, but Ashley has been great. She supports me in everything I do, including soccer. She's there rooting me on.'
Ashley will have plenty to root for as the Boxers have a chance for not only their best season in a decade, but potentially Pacific's first men's soccer championship since 1996.
Matt, however, doesn't think much about championships and stats. He just wants help continue the Boxers' winning ways and savor that success right until the final whistle in November.
'I want to finish out this year knowing that I tried my hardest and that the team tried its hardest. I want to go into that last soccer game unhurt, uninjured and having fun.'