In his rookie season, Patriots alum Matt Light took on the "ultimate trifecta" of joining the NFL, getting married and starting his very own charitable foundation. Althoughhe retired from football in 2012, he's continued to be a dedicated family man and philanthropist, giving much of his time to the development of the Light Foundation and its programs in support of at-risk youth from around the country.
We recently caught up with Matt to find out more about his work with the Light Foundation, his reputation for being a prankster, and why he and Coach Belichick aren't so different after all.
You established the Light Foundation during your first season in the NFL. Why did you decide to do that so early on in your career?
It probably wasn't the greatest thing to do when it comes to keeping sanity. But I guess I was at a point in that transition from college, and it was kind of a shock to be able to go from that to an organization like the Patriots. I was very thankful and very appreciative of the opportunity and I wanted to do something with it.
The Light Foundation's programs focus on youth development. Why is that a passion for you?
From a bigger-picture point of view, my mom taught for 35 years, my dad's just a natural born teacher and my sister homeschools eight kids. I think in my family the need to educate or just enjoy that aspect of life is kind of in the DNA.
I tell people all the time, it's an honor to work with young people. It truly is. They're no different than your own kids. There are days when you want to throw a few out the window – only when there's three or four feet of snow, though – but it's always about the end-game. That's one of the unique things about the Light Foundation. We take a long-term approach to providing services to those that quite honestly would never get them otherwise. They spend four years in our program, getting a sense of what it means to be responsible, ethical and accountable, and at the end of the day they become leaders.
Are you hands-on with the kids?
It's not called the Matt Light Foundation but it is the Light Foundation, so I'm not only carrying my last name, but I'm also carrying the last name of all those that came before me. Anything that has my name on it, I'll be there 100 percent.
The best example that I can give these kids – it's no different than Bill. I tell people all the time that Coach Belichick isn't the easiest guy in the world to be around and he does a lot of things at a level that most people can't comprehend, but if he's in the trenches with you the whole time, it's kind of hard to call him out on any of it or to complain, because you know he's working harder than you are in most cases. So when you have somebody that sets an example like that, it goes a long way. I feel the same way about our camps.
To raise money for your camps and other programs, you host all kinds of events, including Fools' Night Out, which is coming up on April 1.
We came up with this idea to celebrate what to me is probably the greatest holiday of the year. I'm not sure if other people classify April Fool's Day as a holiday, but they should. Honestly it'd be safer – at least for the people that I know – if they didn't go work.
We love doing things that are outside the box and this was just a great opportunity. I've been a friend and fan of comedian Lenny Clarke forever. He's been close to the team and a big supporter of the Light Foundation. So, the formula is pretty straightforward. Get Lenny and his buddies up there and let them do what they do. That'll be phenomenal. Then for a special twist, we'll tell some stories and we'll show some videos, some fun pranks. A lot of them come from within the locker room, so we've got some surprises.
Any hints about what we might see in those prank videos?
I'll tell you this much, about 350 people can fit in Showcase Live and for those 350 they will definitely have some fun stories to tell.
I had an epiphany after many, many years of sitting in meetings trying to stay awake, especially during training camp. One afternoon we were watching the two-minute drill from practice, and I remember seeing the people sitting underneath the stop clock [at training camp] and I thought to myself, 'These camera guys have to film the audience because they're actually filming the clock.' So I called a few friends and they came over and they put on a heck of a show for us all to watch when we were reviewing film the next day. We've actually got that footage. It was priceless. Bill for some reason didn't find that quite as entertaining as we did, though.
You might be one of the only people who's ever gotten away with pranking him.
You know, I'm not sure I got away with it. There's a reason the offensive line had to run a whole heck of a lot more than everybody else. I think I had to do a few extra reps. I think he loved to hate me. There was definitely love in there somewhere.
*When you were on the team, was there anyone you wanted to prank but didn't get to? *
I had an epic trap set for Mr. Brady until he foiled it by hopping on a private jet to go to New York or something like that, who knows. I've never had that pop up where a private jet has just whisked me away for an impromptu trip. Yeah, I had one for him that would have been an all-time classic, but I think we did have some fun with Tommy over the years. I'll be introducing one that we did on him at this year's Fools' Night Out. That'll be a fun one. But I did miss an opportunity for a much grander ruse.
The Light Foundation's Fools' Night Out takes place at Showcase Live on April 1. For more information and to buy tickets, see www.mattlight72.com.