Oak Lawn Native Conrath Signs as Free Agent with Rams
Oak Lawn native and St. Rita graduate Matt Conrath spent a few nervous hours on the golf course Saturday, then signed a free-agent contract to play with the St. Louis Rams.
On the final day of the NFL Draft, St. Rita graduate and Oak Lawn native Matt Conrath decided to turn off his television set.
Instead of sitting and agonizing over every pick, the University of Virginia defensive lineman and St. Louis Rams free agent-signee opted to clear his mind during a round of golf with his parents, Dave and Maura, and his older brother, Bob, Saturday afternoon at Stony Creek.
First, Conrath had to deal with another little bit of anxiety: He doesn’t own a set of golf clubs.
And he’s hard to fit, not only because of his size (6-7, 290), but also because he is left-handed.
“I rented a set of clubs that came up to my waist,” Conrath said. “I didn’t even have a driver. I used a three-wood. But it was fun.”
Conrath, twice named the ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week during his senior year with the Cavaliers, knew where he stood on NFL draft boards. Despite earning first-team All-ACC honors and ranking third among all ‘D’ linemen in the ACC with 64 tackles, he was deemed a lukewarm prospect by many NFL player personnel scouts and draft experts.
Would he be fast enough to play defensive end in the NFL? Strong enough to mix it up at ‘D’ tackle? And, in what scheme would his skill-set work best?
“I was realistic throughout the process,” Conrath said. “I understood there was a chance I could be picked in the late rounds. But I also understood there was a chance I would not get picked.”
Hence, the golf gig.
“I didn’t want to sit in front of the TV and go crazy,” Conrath said. “I got a few calls on the golf course about free agency. It was about 10 minutes after the draft ended that I signed with the Rams.”
The team has a new coach, ex-Bear safety Jeff Fisher. Conrath spoke with Rams defensive line coach Brendan Daly. The two discussed the idea of him learning to play multiple positions.
“Yeah, Jeff Fisher was on the ’85 Bears,” Conrath said. “My dad remembers him. I wasn’t born yet.”
One more factor played into Conrath’s decision to sign with the Rams.
“One of my friends—Chris Long—plays for them,” Conrath said. “I talked with him and I got some insight from him.”
Conrath played with Long for one season when he was a freshman at Virginia. Conrath joined the Cavaliers after helping lead St. Rita to the Class 7A state championship in 2006. He was reunited with some of his old Mustang teammates and friends after completing his rounds on the golf course Saturday.
“We forgot to get a scorecard,” Conrath said. “We weren’t even really keeping track. It wasn’t about that.”
His agent, Noel LaMontange of Eastern Athletic Services, said playing on Sundays is about opportunity.
“It doesn’t matter if you go in the fifth or sixth or seventh round of the draft—when teams start throwing darts out there at players you’ve never heard of—or if you sign as a free agent,” LaMontange said.
“Everybody wants to be drafted and get a piece of that $20,000 or $30,000 signing bonus. But it’s more important to find the perfect fit and make a team’s roster and get that first game-day paycheck. It’s about getting that opportunity. Matt is going to have that opportunity.
“St. Louis wanted him. Now, it will be up to him to show them what he can do. Now, it comes down to playing football again.”
Conrath reports to rookie mini-camp on May 10. His long reach makes him an attractive addition as a special teams player. He blocked three field goals in 2011 while with the Cavaliers.
His breakout game came in Virginia’s 24-21 upset victory over 12th-ranked Georgia Tech. Conrath was credited with a career-high nine tackles, blocked a field goal and celebrated when the crowd rushed the field.
The Cavaliers finished with an 8-5 record, including a 43-24 loss to Auburn in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl before a sellout crowd in the Georgia Dome on New Year’s Eve.
“We hadn’t been to a bowl game in three years,” Conrath said. “So, that was real important for our senior class. We wanted to bring the program back to where it used to be.”