When Matt Haggerty began high school at Seton Catholic, he had mononucleosis. When he began his senior year, it was on a broken foot.

Aware that he’s a prime example of the “It’s not how you start it’s how you finish” cliché, Haggerty is OK with his situation, both in changing positions and changing his future.

After he played three positions (wide receiver, defensive back and punter) and led Seton’s thorough toppling of the White Mountain powerhouses (Cottonwood Mingus, Show Low and Lakeside Blue Ridge) to win the Division IV state championship, followed by his hitting and pitching exploits which forged a deep run in the baseball postseason, Haggerty is the 2012-2013 Tribune Male Athlete of the Year.

He could have done more had he played basketball, where he was a varsity contributor the first couple years of high school, but his broken foot (which healed in time for one week of practice before football began) bothered him again. So, much to baseball coach Marty Maier’s relief, Haggerty walked away from the hardwood.

It turned out to be a wise choice. After a football season with 66 catches for 1,007 yards, 37 tackles, seven interceptions, an average of 35.5 yards per punt, 21.6 yards per punt return, and 23 total touchdowns. After walking away following a couple painful hoops practices, he became a de facto student-leader at basketball games for a few weeks.

The temporary reprieve before baseball worked wonders to help him earn this honor, beating out bigger names like Mountain Pointe’s Jalen Brown and Desert Vista’s Dylan Fischer from bigger schools. 

He batted .414 with a .545 on-base percentage, 44 runs scored, three home runs, 12 stolen bases and saved his best for the mound: 6-0, a 2.12 earned run average and 52 strikeouts in 41 innings. The No. 1-seed Sentinels made the final round of six before falling to eventual-champion Notre Dame in the Div. II state tournament.

He was going to Colorado-Mesa this fall to play football and baseball, but thanks to some persistence from Maier, drew interest from Grand Canyon University (and Loyola-Marymount), and he eventually asked out of his Colorado-Mesa commitment to sign on at GCU for a full baseball/academic scholarship, where he can still go to Arizona State football games and play baseball with several past teammates/opponents from the East Valley.

The “fit” meant more to him than possibly four years without postseason, as GCU is in a transition phase toward becoming an NCAA Division I school.

This attitude permeated with Haggerty for years. When he eventually recovered from mono — “I don’t remember kissing any girls that summer” — a fellow baseball player named Ryan Bresnahan was playing quarterback in practice, and he turned out to be pretty good. So Haggerty, previously a tight end before playing junior high at quarterback, moved to receiver. Four games into his sophomore year, he also became a safety to help a struggling defense. He started both ways as a junior and starred both ways as a senior.

Despite the championship win over a Blue Ridge juggernaut, which crushed Seton in the 2011 semifinals, it was the two preceding playoff games he’ll remember most.

First was his two touchdowns (his only receptions of the game) in a 14-point comeback in the rain against Mingus, which showed the Sentinels had, indeed, learned from the physical and mental pounding they received a year before.

That was followed by 11 catches for 160 yards (243 total yards) and three touchdowns against Show Low in the semifinals.

“I don’t want to say we knew we’d win because it’s after the fact and easy to say now, but we felt like (the title) was ours after the Mingus game and then beating Show Low,” he said.

Football is now fading away into history, and he offered no qualms about not being out in this extreme heat doing practices and conditioning. But he’s geeked about ASU’s chances this fall, and being in attendance will come with nostalgia.

“I know I’ll be sitting in the stands going, ‘Dang, I’m going to miss this stuff,’” he said. “It’s not bad now because everything’s worked out. In the fall, it’ll hit me. I’m going to miss it. You have to make a decision sometime.”

“The decision” was to take a shot at the starting center fielder spot at GCU, and maybe pitch an inning or two only if called upon: “I won’t miss the three days after (starting) when your arm is dead and instead it’s running about 20 miles. No thanks. Diving catches are way more cool to me than striking people out.”

• Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at mheller@evtrib.com or (480) 898-6576.

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