Fantuz Courage Awards: David Matias and his Panthers never gave up despite small roster

The ability to persevere and keep going when things get tough is one of the most useful skills the sport of football can teach you. This attitude is embodied perfectly in the story of young David Matias and his atom Panthers of the London Minor Football Association, a team that never gave up despite only having 15 players on the roster.

Matias was one of many players on the Panthers who had to play more than one position, as everyone was forced to step up and essentially never come off the field.  Working twice as hard with the odds stacked against them, Matias and the Panthers fought hard all season long. While the Panthers only ended up winning one game this past season, every member of the team is a winner for overcoming such a difficult challenge.

David Matias played both defensive back and offensive line for the Panthers, doing his part to make up for his team’s shortage of players. It had become clear early in the season that the Panthers were not going to have a lot of players.

“Right from the start of the season they didn’t have a good turnout,” said Tony Matias, David’s father. “I think at one point they had 18 and then some of the parents took their kids out because they could see that the team was so small.”

Playing on a team with only 14 other kids, Matias and his atom teammates would have to stay on the field for most of the game.

“David’s team was basically playing against other teams that had anywhere between 25 and probably 30 kids,” Tony Matias said. “They had two full lines plus the special teams or whatever, where David’s team the same ten guys stayed on the field nonstop.”

Having to play more than one position is a challenge, but playing two drastically different positions like offensive line and defensive back is a truly special accomplishment. Matias served this crucial role for the Panthers and even filled in for other positions when it was needed.

“It is quite hard to learn both of them, but you just have to stick through it,” Matias said.

Matias worked hard along the offensive line for the undermanned Panthers, but for him the true joy was on the other side of the ball. He said he wants to continue playing defence in the future as a linebacker.

“I like defence better because I can make the hit,” Matias said.

Tony Matias watched his son’s team battle through adversity week after week and keep competing in the face of defeat. He knew that his son was gaining solid experience on the field and would benefit from going through such a tough season.

“It was a great year for David,” Tony Matias said. “It was quite the learning experience and it definitely opened his eyes up to the offensive line and the hard work that they have to do.”

Matias said the most challenging part of playing on such a small roster is the most obvious one: never stopping.

“I think not going off the field is kind of hard,” Matias said. “And seeing their whole team going off and new guys coming on and we’re just like out of breath.”

When asked what he learned last season with the Panthers, Matias said it taught him hard work and dedication while also shaping him into an “overall better football player.”

Matias is now playing summer football for the Forest City Thunderbirds and is planning to play another couple of seasons in the LMFA. With him now moving up to the Peewee level, Matias will most likely never have to play on such a small team again.

But Matias has some invaluable advice for any other young players stuck in a similar situation.

“Just try not to give up,” Matias said. “Try to stick through it.”

While Matias was a workhorse and leader for the Panthers, every member of the team deserves to be recognized for making it through the season and never quitting when things got difficult.

“It’s a huge credit to all the players on that team,” Tony Matias said. “Coach Ian Nagy, he had a son on it, his name was Ethan. He was another stand up kid who never complained and was always on the field. I mean basically you could name every kid on that team. They all never gave up. It didn’t matter what the score was, right to the last whistle in the fourth quarter they were going a hundred per cent.”

Matias was quick to give praise to his coaches as well, including Ian Nagy and Luke Reeves.

“They were very important,” Matias said. “We only had three coaches so they all had to do more work than normal also.”

Chosen along with four other players in London Minor Football, Matias was honoured for his display of hard work and courage. Matias got to meet CFL receiver Andy Fantuz and even received some free football gear from Xenith as a prize.

“We went to a Hamilton game and it was fun,” Matias said. “We got a nice helmet and nice shoulder pads.”

Matias’ father was beyond happy to see his son, and the Panthers team as a whole, get recognized for their efforts.

“I can’t describe how proud I was,” Tony Matias said. “It’s a huge compliment. Kudos to the coach for nominating him but anybody on that team could have represented the whole team. There’s a lot of kids that didn’t come off and it’s definitely about the kids together. They weren’t just a team they were almost like a family.”

Matias fit right in as a valuable member of that family with the Panthers. For him, being a good teammate is one of the most important parts of the game.

“I like being around my team,” Matias said when asked about why he loves football.




Andy Fantuz will be honoring minor football athletes who have demonstrated outstanding character by overcoming adversity. The nominees will receive free Xenith helmets and shoulder pads courtesy of Andy Fantuz and Fulton Financial.



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About Fulton Financial

Developed in Based in London, ON, Fulton Financial provides a full suite of financial services products. 

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