SPOKANE, Wash. -- As a fall afternoon faded toward dusk, Danny Mattingly lingered on the Spokane (Wash.) Mead practice field. He tried to explain what it felt like when the first text message appeared on his phone the night before.
One text was followed by a flood. Each one asked the same question: Did you decommit from Notre Dame?
The rumor started on Twitter. It quickly spread. It caught the 6-foot-5, 218-pound athlete by surprise. It bothered him so much he couldn’t sleep.
“I didn’t even go to bed all last night,” Mattingly said. “It just kind of sucks, because I’m trying to be here for my team, be the best leader I can, being up, ready and fired up all the time and it just sucks when you’ve got this as a distraction.”
There was a palpable feeling of frustration in his voice.
“People just kind of blow things out of proportion where they shouldn’t,” he said. “It just sucks that people think they know things when they don’t even go to the main person. That’s what bothers me.”
There is a reason Mattingly had his mother, Carolyn, suspend his cell phone service after he committed to the Irish in June. Within an hour of his commitment he had 35 voice mails. Instead of returning the calls, he turned off his phone.
As he prepared for his senior season, he wanted to focus on setting an example for his teammates. He wanted to do well in school. And he wanted to keep in contact with the coaches who were recruiting him.
All of that was overwhelming enough. He didn’t feel the need to fill the notebooks of people digging for recruiting news.
“You can’t be worried about getting all these guys stories, stuff they can go off on where they can kind of twist your words,” he said. “You like thinking about yourself right now and then, once this is all over, then you can focus on that.”
Instead of worrying about recruiting, Mattingly wants to lead Mead to a Class 4A state championship. The Panthers, who are 7-1 so far, have never advanced past the quarterfinals.
“We want to be the team that wins it,” he said. “We want to be the team up on the banners that goes all the way. That would mean the world to me.”
Mattingly grew up in a football family. His father, Sam, played linebacker at Butler and his older brother, Andy, played at Washington State.
“Ever since I was in elementary school, I was watching my brother play football at WSU,” Mattingly said. “I always just pictured myself playing for one of those college teams.
“I’ve always been fired up for football. My dad was just always there for me, always going out in the backyard and letting me hit him. That’s just how I got started.”
As he got older, he developed into a lean linebacker and talented tight end. He has been recruited at both positions, piling up double-digit offers before committing to Notre Dame.
“I want to find a place where I fit in really well as a player and just improve, work my tail off in college,” Mattingly. “I want to get to the pros; that’s my ultimate goal. That’s been my goal ever since I was little.”
While he is following in his family’s footsteps, he isn’t looking to live up to a legacy.
“I’m definitely building my own path,” he said. “We’re completely different people.”
Whether he ends up on offense or defense at the next level, Mattingly wants to quickly find the field.
“I just love playing the game,” he said. “I’ll do whatever I can to get on the field as soon as I can. Offense, defense -- that doesn’t really matter as much right now. I’m sure that will take place as I get to the school, when they find out what’s best for their program.”
Despite his commitment, schools have continued to recruit Mattingly. He took an official visit to Washington for the USC game and enjoyed his trip across the state to Seattle.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “They were the first school to offer me and they’ve always been there. They’ve got some great coaches. I got to meet some really good players, really genuine, nice guys. It was fun to go over there and see UW. It was cool. I really appreciated the opportunity to go over there. I had a blast with them.”
But while he enjoyed the visit, he stressed he remains committed to Notre Dame. With a push toward the playoffs in front of him, he doesn’t want to be distracted.
“It’s flying by,” he said. “I can’t even believe it. I just remember being a sophomore, thinking how excited I was to be a senior, looking forward to all the recruiting and stuff. And now it’s here. It’s crazy. I’m getting ready for our last playoffs in high school.”
On one side of Mattingly’s gold helmet there is a big, blue block “M.” The other side of the helmet is covered in stickers handed out for big plays. It shows how much he has already accomplished this season.
But he doesn’t know how many are on there. He doesn’t really care.
“I think they kind of overdo some of the stickers a little bit sometimes,” he said with a laugh. “Maybe they should make them a little bit smaller or something. It kind of adds a whole new color to our helmet.”
He would trade them all for chance to play in a state championship game.
“We just need to win out, hopefully make it all the way,” he said. “We’ve got to win it.”