RUSTON — Matt Broha will step onto the field for the 40th and final time of his illustrious Louisiana Tech career on Dec. 21.
But while his collegiate career is coming to a close, Broha hopes his football days are far from finished.
The former Catholic High standout, who has started all but three games of his career at defensive end, including 28 in a row, looks to put a stamp on one of the best defensive careers in school history when Tech faces 15th-ranked TCU, the Mountain West Conference champion, in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Dec. 21 on ESPN.
“It’s been a long five years to say the least,” Broha said. “I think it kind of just sneaks up on you, because you don’t think about it until that last game. It’s been a long road. I feel like the road getting there has been pretty tough. It’s been fun, but it’s crazy that it’s about to (end).”
The Bulldogs enter the game with an 8-4 record after going 6-1 in the Western Athletic Conference, winning the school’s first conference championship in a decade.
Broha, a 6-foot-4, 255-pound fifth-year senior, anchors the line and has been one of the stalwarts on a unit that has quietly developed into one of the better defenses in the country.
Known mostly for his pass-rushing skills, Broha has compiled 7.5 sacks this season and moved into the No. 2 spot on the Bulldogs’ career sack list with 22. He was one of three Tech senior defenders to receive All-WAC first-team honors, joining Defensive Player of the Year Adrien Cole and cornerback Terry Carter.
But he doesn’t just get after opposing quarterbacks, even though he leads Tech with eight hurries and ranks in the top 40 in the country in sacks and the top 100 in tackles for loss. Broha also made the most total tackles of Tech’s defensive linemen with 42, proving he also is adept against the run.
“Statistically, he’s excellent with the pass, because he’s got all those sacks,” Louisiana Tech defensive line coach Stan Eggan said, “but really he’s an every-down player for us. He’s as efficient and effective against the run as he is the pass. He’s a very instinctive player. … He truly is an every-down player, a tremendous player and a tremendous leader.”
“A lot of hard work went into being in the position I’m in right now,” Broha said.
Christian Lacey, a senior defensive end who has had a career year in 2011 and leads Tech in sacks and tackles for losses, said he’s been able to improve as a player by watching Broha’s work ethic.
“Matt has always been a mature person, but I can honestly say every year he puts in the work, and he just gets better,” Lacey said. “Not everyone puts in the work. That’s the thing that’s special about Matt; he puts in the work. At the end of the day, he does the things to make his team better.”
“Just seeing him work as hard as he worked is what kind of propels me to work just as hard,” Lacey added. “Matt and I, right now, are the two seniors on the D-line. It makes me work just as hard to try to set an example for the other guys on the defensive line.”
Eggan and Lacey both said Broha is the type of player who likes to let his actions lead the way. However, he’s willing to speak up when needed. Eggan described him as “a little like E.F. Hutton,” the early 20th century financier who was known for garnering people’s attention when he spoke.
Lacey, meanwhile, said Broha is known for his “real deep voice,” and while many teammates like to mimic his speech, once he’s talking, he commands their attention.
“Everybody’s going to listen to him and what he has to say,” Lacey said. “We might joke and kid around at practice or in the locker room about that deep voice, but when it comes game time and he talks, everybody’s listening.”
In his four years in Ruston, Broha has amassed 149 tackles, including 32 for loss, 22 sacks, eight pass breakups, forced five fumbles and recovered two fumbles. He also intercepted a pass and returned it for a 40-yard touchdown as a freshman, and caught two passes on fake punts.
Broha is a part of a senior class that becomes the first in more than three decades to play in two bowl games. He made three tackles as a redshirt freshman in the Bulldogs’ 17-10 win over Northern Illinois in the 2008 Independence Bowl.
As a sophomore, he made a career-high 63 tackles, and last year, he ranked in the top 50 in the country with nine sacks and 14 tackles for loss. But those defenses weren’t very good, as Tech had losing seasons in Derek Dooley’s final year as coach and Sonny Dykes’ first.
Broha’s senior year has been a different story, as Tech has ridden a strong defense to seven consecutive victories after starting 1-4. Tech has allowed just 122 yards rushing per game and only 3.4 yards per carry. Opponents have scored just eight rushing TDs all year.
The Bulldogs are allowing 22.5 points per game, and that number has dropped to 14.9 points per game in the winning streak. Broha and the Bulldogs are coming off a 44-0 shutout of New Mexico State on Nov. 26, the team’s first shutout since 2008. Broha tied his career high with two sacks in that win.
Tech’s defense, which has improved statistically across the board this year, has been particularly stingy on third down, allowing a conversion rate of just 32.5 percent, which ranks 12th in the country.
The defensive line has been perhaps its most stout unit, ranking in the top 20 in sacks per game and 23rd in the country against the run.
Eggan said the Tech coaches challenged Broha during the offseason to get stronger, which has allowed Broha to become a more explosive player.
“He’s got a passion to be best he can be,” Eggan said. “He’s continued to work on his technique and fundamentals. His pad level has gotten better. He’s learned how to study opponents — what that offensive lineman does, or tight end, depending on who’s blocking him. He’s a player who has ability, but he wants to work harder to find out how good he can become.”
The season didn’t start off on a high note, as they lost close games against Southern Miss, Mississippi State and Houston and then were blown out at home against Hawaii in their first WAC game to fall to 1-4. Tech has since won seven straight games, and Broha said it’s been a “pretty special” ride.
“It’s just crazy that we started off 1-4,” Broha said. “We all kind of knew we could play better and what kind of team we had. It didn’t hit us until after Hawaii how special this team was, and we’ve won seven games in a row. We’re just a bunch of guys who kind of got overlooked at other places and came together at Tech. We belong to the system. I feel like we’ve established a brand for years to come. We wanted to make a name for ourselves, and I feel like we’ve done that.”
Lacey said he believes the success of this year’s team is directly related to its closeness.
“I think the team is more of a family this year,” Lacey said. “In the past it’s been a little bit more individualized, and you have one or two bad eggs on the team. This year, I feel we were all a family this year, and we really played for each other.”
Broha said he has a lot of good memories from his Tech career, which started with an upset win over Mississippi State in the first game of his career. That season ended with an Independence Bowl victory, and while the next two years were tough, his senior season has been especially fulfilling.
The “biggest moment,” he said, was winning the WAC title and defeating Nevada on the road in the process. The seniors had never beaten Nevada, and Tech rallied with 21 fourth-quarter points to win 24-20, snapping Nevada’s 16-game home winning streak.
“That was the craziest comeback I’ve ever been a part of,” Broha said.
Broha hopes to have a few more positive memories before his college career is over. That would start with a bowl win over TCU, which also has won seven straight games, and he’s hoping to earn an invite to one of the senior all-star games before beginning to prepare for the NFL draft.
In high school, he dreamed of playing college football, and he was able to fulfill that goal. The next goal is to play in the NFL, whether he’s drafted or has to take the free-agent route.
“I definitely want to keep playing football,” Broha said.