Tackling life: Former BYU football player takes on depression


Matt Putnam wondered what to do next after not being drafted by the NFL in 2012 despite having a successful football career at BYU from 2007-2011.

“It was kind of a blow being told you do not have the skill set to continue doing what you love anymore,” Putnam said from his living room couch, with his wife, Jill, and their 19-month-old son, Bear.

BYU defensive lineman Matt Putnam fights through the Oregon State line. Photo by Chris Bunker
BYU defensive lineman Matt Putnam fights through the Oregon State line. Photo by Chris Bunker

But Putnam had to face a more difficult challenge. For years, he had been quietly enduring a fight with severe depression off the field and away from the spotlight. He had also encountered academic issues during his time at BYU, but trial would eventually turn into triumph for him.

“He is very passionate,” Jill Putnam said. “When he gets his head set on something he is going to do it no matter what.”

Matt Putnam, now 28, is on target to graduate from BYU in April with a major in exercise science and plans to attend X-ray tech school in the fall.

The 6-foot-7-inch, 270-pound former BYU defensive lineman and two-time Utah all-state high school football player has a lengthy list of athletic achievements under his belt. Matt racked up 70 tackles while playing at BYU from 2007 to 2011, helping the team achieve a 38-14 record during that time.

Matt Putnam, the youngest of seven children, grew up in Brigham City. He has played a variety of sports since he was 4 years old. In high school he lettered in football, baseball and basketball.

“All of my brothers and sisters played at least two sports,” he said. “My dad has probably been to hundreds of sporting events.”

Putnam was named the Region-4 Defensive Most Valuable Player, a preseason All-American, and was the MVP of his Box Elder team as a high school football player. He was recruited by colleges such as Oregon, Stanford and Utah but felt impressed to go to BYU instead.

Austin Nielsen, a friend and a former BYU offensive lineman, said he got to know Matt Putnam well as he went up against him every day during practice.

“We would go at each other, and then we could just laugh about it in the locker room afterwards,” Nielsen said. “We could go hard without taking anything personal.”

Matt Putnam found out he suffered from severe depression in 2009 during a visit to a sports psychologist after struggling with anxiety and bad grades in school. His college grades continued to worsen, and he was eventually suspended from BYU just before his senior year. He was ruled academically ineligible to play on the football team.

“It was hard because I couldn’t even go on the sidelines,” Matt said. “I sat up in the stands for the first four or five games of the season.”

Nielsen said his family and the Putnams remained a tight-knit group of friends during that time and helped each other get through their various trials together.

“My wife and I tried to be there for Matt and his wife and to support them,” Nielsen said.

Putnam was told he could rejoin the team later that season after a long petition process with the NCAA. He went to practice for a week with the team and then was back on the field in the following game.

“The very first play he was in was a tackle for a loss,” Jill Putnam said.

Matt Putnam finished his final year of BYU football but did not make the Green Bay Packers after free agent tryouts in 2012. He worked hard over the next two years, achieved better grades and got on course for graduation from BYU.

Depression is still a continuing battle for him, but he said he is 95 percent better today than he used to be.

“The things that I do now are more based on me being a better father, being a better husband and trying to figure out how to raise my little boy,” he said.

Matt Putnam said he wants to help people with depression and let them know it doesn’t have to ruin their life.

“Now that I look back on it, I am thankful for it,” he said.

He said God is merciful and does not allow people to go through things unless there is an absolute reason for it.

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