Bluffton, Ohio. Home of Caity Matter, Ohio State's most prolific career 3-point shooter for the women's basketball team. Caity Matter put the girls basketball team at Bluffton High School on the map in Ohio when she led her Lady Pirate team to consecutive appearances in the state tournament in the 1999 and 2000 seasons.
Caity's younger brother, Ricky Matter, was her biggest fan and a star of the high school football team at Bluffton in his freshman year of 2003.
As the team's starting signal caller that season, Ricky led the Pirates to a post-season birth by passing for 2,802 yards and throwing 26 touchdown passes. He was a left-handed virtuoso under center for the Pirates with an uncanny knack of doing things with the football that many others beyond his years were unable to. And he could do it with such aplomb.
Tragically, Ricky's young life was prematurely ended when he was involved in a fatal car crash and was pronounced dead at the scene, a year ago on Valentine's day.
Caity played on that winter of her junior season at Ohio State. Her younger brother and best friend in the world certainly would have wanted it that way.
And to the best of its ability, the football program at Bluffton has moved on as well, in Ricky's image. For many years, Dennis Lee, the head coach at Bluffton, ran a three-yard-and-cloud-of-dust offense. But Lee, a veteran of 18 seasons at the helm now at Bluffton, changed everything when it was time for Ricky to run the show.
Matter will always be remembered in Bluffton
"That particular summer we changed everything, and it was exciting. We made the decision to obviously go with it full bore and go on from there. And we had a lot of fun with it," Lee said. "We were able to implement that offense for his freshman year during that summer, and that football season was really exciting.
The offense fit his personality and his ability to a tee. He wore the number 7 because he admired quarterbacks like Ben Roethlisberger and Ben Mauk, from Kenton High School.
"He could make plays. Some of the things that he was able to do were remarkable from a coaching standpoint during that particular season," Lee said. "There was never any situations where we didn't think that we couldn't score with him running the spread. He was an excellent athlete."
And that's the way his offense remained last year, in what would have been Ricky's sophomore campaign.
Ricky was a passenger in car with a couple of his basketball teammates and they were returning to the school from a district wrestling tournament to board the bus for a basketball game that night.
"It was a traffic accident and the car they were in got hit on the side and it happened to be the side that Ricky was sitting on," said Jim Raabe, the athletic director at Bluffton High School.
Constant reminders of Ricky have lived on at the school and through Caity since his passing, and will continue to do so into perpetuity. A much-needed strength and conditioning facility, just off the south end zone, is being built in his memory and will be dedicated in his name near the end of this school year or the beginning of summer.
The Ricky Matter Strength and Conditioning Center, currently under construction
"At the end of the school year last year, the kids wrote messages on his locker. It actually took up about 30 feet worth of locker space for goodbye messages to Ricky," Raabe said. "In the strength and conditioning center, there is a memorial room that will be there with pictures and some things there of Ricky and other students who had died previously, whatever their circumstances were."
Raabe obviously knew Ricky well just as he did Caity. A high school basketball picture of Caity hangs in his office to this day.
"The thing that everybody always thinks about first with Ricky was his smile. He was always very positive and upbeat, I don't know if you ever really saw him down or anything," Raabe said. "And he obviously was very athletic. He had to be to compete with his sister. He really took after his sister in attitude and work ethic and everything. It's what got her a Division I scholarship at Ohio State, and that was one of his goals also."
Caity Matter had her number retired after a legendary career at Bluffton
Football was his sport, but he was the quarterback of the school's basketball team as well.
"He was a pretty good basketball player, but it was pretty tough for him to be as good in basketball as he was in football because he was just tremendous in football," Raabe said. "He did start and play as a freshman and was going to earn a letter in basketball as a freshman. He was going to be a four-year letter winner in two sports."
Perhaps the biggest hardwood influence that Caity actually had on Ricky, other then the intensity he played the game with, was the way that he shot the basketball.
"The interesting thing about Ricky was that Ricky was a left-handed quarterback, but he shot the basketball right-handed because his sister taught him to shoot and she's right-handed. So he threw the football left-handed and he shot the basketball right-handed."
Lee had the privilege of coaching both Ricky and Caity in their best sport at Bluffton.
"The competitiveness that both of them had and the knowledge of the game and the work ethic are all intertwined in both of them," the coach said. "And they had the natural ability to go along with that. They're very competitive kids, both of them."
The two siblings may have been years apart in age, but they couldn't have been any closer than they were. Ricky was always the ball boy for the girls basketball team and was at all of his big sister's high school games and even practices.
"Those two were very close," Raabe said. "They were about 7 or so years apart in age, but they were probably about as close as any brother and sister could be. The way he supported his sister and really wanted to follow in her footsteps, you just don't see that too often. She was his older sister and he wanted to follow in her footsteps."
And that included a strong desire to become a Buckeye just like his sister. And for at least the next two years, Ricky's name will be mentioned in discussions relating to the recruiting class of 2007 in Ohio.
"He was Ohio State," Raabe said. "The whole family is Ohio State and that was his goal. He wanted to be the starting quarterback at Ohio State, and I wouldn't have put it past him because the kid was going to work at it, and he had ability, too. He was a small kid as a freshman, but he was growing and he had a big arm and could throw that ball a long way."
Ohio State was indeed his ultimate destination.
"Oh yeah, he always talked about that," Lee said. "Who knows, and we'll never be able to answer that or know, but that was certainly something that he dreamed of, and he loved it down there. So who knows where everything would have taken him."
So Lee chooses not to think so much about what could have been with Ricky in regards to him performing on the gridiron.
"It's more of just a constant reminder of him now," he said. "The football thing, who knows what he could have done, that's the open question. He knew the game inside and out, and it was just something that he loved to do. But I think more of him than anything else football-related because he was a great kid. He loved the game and he loved athletics and he loved football, and he was just a great kid."
Lee makes light of the fact that he almost ruined his young prodigy before he ever got started. Ricky was the ball boy for the football team back in the 3rd or 4th grade and he actually broke his leg when he got too close to the action.
"I can remember visiting him a couple of times at the elementary school, and he was toting around in his wheelchair and he was big stuff going down the hallways," Lee said. "He was just as proud as a peacock because he got injured doing the football thing. So his career got off to kind of an inauspicious start."
Does Lee ever ask himself, why?
"For a long time I did," he said. "But you can keep asking and keep asking, and there is no way that you can ever answer that. God must have needed a good football player because he got one. It's just a tragedy and we just have to go on."
There will always be the everlasting memories of Ricky Matter to hold on to.
"He was always in my office watching film and tape, and we were always going over stuff and through stuff," Lee said. "He was only a freshman but certainly with the new offense, our kids were constantly going to him and asking him questions. And he knew every route that every kid was supposed to run and he was able to help them out in that way."
He packed so much joy and excitement into the one season that the Bluffton faithful had him for.
"To me, the biggest thing about Ricky on the football field is that he was just fun to watch," Raabe said. "It wasn't going to matter how many games we were going to win or anything, he was just fun to watch. And we're not going to get to see that."
But most of all. Ricky Matter will be deeply missed.
"He's missed all the time," Raabe said. "I've got memorial stickers ‘RM' that face my desk and I kind of see him every single day. There are times when you think about him and you get a catch in your throat and you say a little prayer and you just go on."
Even the Ohio State football team honored his memory with a sticker the players wore on the back of their helmets that was partially dedicated to him.
"There's not too many days that go by that you don't have memories of him," Lee said.
Donations are still being accepted toward the Ricky Matter Strength and Conditioning Center. Interested donors can contact Bill Gable at Citizens National Bank, 102 S. Main Street, Bluffton, Ohio 45817 or call the bank at 419-358-8040 and ask for Bill Gable.