The day he found out his Arkansas running career was over turned out to be the first day of the rest of his life.
Gunn, a junior who transferred to Arkansas from Clemson in 2002, found out he'd been awarded the NCAA's prestigious Walter Byers postgraduate scholarship in the renewable amount of $21,500 just more than an hour after he got test results showing a stress fracture to his lower leg.
"He came in here dancing," McDonnell said. "I couldn't tell he had a stress fracture. He could have fooled me."
The lady Gunn spoke to told him whatever money he didn't use would have to be returned to the NCAA, but they better not be waiting on a check when he enrolls this fall.
Gunn -- a senior academically but a junior in legibility -- was one of 360 applicants out of 8,500 to be accepted into Columbia University's Class of 2008 Early Decision Plan after he also applied to law schools at Southern Cal, Fordham, Boston College, Penn, UCLA, Cornell, Virginia, Georgetown and Notre Dame.
He was accepted to his first choice last fall and his 3.83 grade-point average and All-Southeastern Conference career for the Razorbacks earned him a significant chunk of a three-year bill that will total out at more than $175,000.
Gunn is a double major in European studies and international relations, was the undergraduate chair of the International Law Society at the UA and also served as a speaker for the Arkansas Athletes Outreach Champions of Character Program.
Gunn was the winner of the Byers award after being one of approximately 100 applicants nationwide.
McDonnell, who has coached All-Americans of the athletic and academic variety for 33 years while winning 40 NCAA titles at Arkansas, was beaming on Tuesday at Gunn's accomplishment.
"Matt is a prime example of what the university is all about," McDonnell said. "You can get a great education at the University of Arkansas and that's the thing I'm the most proud of.
"You can receive this award and get admitted to Columbia University. It's a real shot in the arm to academics and I personally appreciate it because academics don't get the play that they should in any sport."
Although it would be hard to tell from the NCAA's convoluted new measuring stick for academic success that left Arkansas' track program with less than a passing grade, the Razorbacks are loaded with heavy hitters like Gunn.
Senior seven-time All-American Jason Sandfort recently won a $5,000 scholarship as a finalist for the SEC's Boyd McWharter postgraduate scholarship and senior triple jumper Jaanus Uudmae is one of four track athletes in the country with a 4.0 GPA.
In 2003, four-time NCAA champion and 2004 Olympic finalist Daniel Lincoln was admitted to medical school at UAMS in Little Rock.
Gunn, who attended high school in Idaho Falls, Idaho, after a nomadic life in a Navy family, walked on at Arkansas injured and disillusioned after his freshman year at Clemson determined to maximize his running ability under the best coach before pursuing his postgraduate goal of becoming an international lawyer.
McDonnell figured Gunn's grade-point average would be the only thing that would help the team, but the hard-nosed runner worked his way onto Arkansas' postseason roster in 2003 and 2004.
"It's something that I think too few people have the chance to experience," Gunn said. "I'm lucky every day I was able to experience this. It will be the best memories of my life. Wearing that singlet and competing for the best. There's not an ounce I would change."
He was ninth in 2004 and 14th in 2003, helping McDonnell keep his unbelievable streak of 31 straight conference cross country titles going.
He lowered his personal bests to 4:10 in the mile and 14:24 in the 5,000, which would have been good enough to be tops at Clemson.
That wouldn't be a fair exchange for Gunn.
"I wouldn't trade the ring or being the fifth man on any of these squads for any of it at Clemson," Gunn said. "It's the best decision I've ever made. I've really enjoyed the team aspect. Being the fifth man on this team was a million times more rewarding than being the No.1 man on a team that may or may not make nationals."
Ever the team man, Gunn helped announce events and results at the McDonnell Invitational last weekend and will be going to the Penn Relays this week to drive a van or whatever else McDonnell needs.
"Best experience of my life to be here with this guy (McDonnell) and my teammates," Gunn said. "It's memories for life -- the program he built here and I came here to be a part of. I walked on from Clemson with some trepidation, but these guys have given me a chance since Day One and I consider these guys my brothers.
"I'd do anything for them and coach McDonnell."
McDonnell joked he may have to call in that favor someday.
"If I'm ever overseas and get thrown in jail, I'll know who to call," he said.
Gunn Wins Prestigious Postgraduate Scholarship
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