When Matthew Bergeron ’23 journeyed from his home in Victoriaville, Quebec, to a Syracuse University football camp in summer 2018, he wanted to experience “American football.” For Bergeron, it proved to be a seminal moment. Recognized among Canada’s premier players for his prowess as an offensive lineman at Cégep de Thetford high school, he was virtually unknown on this side of the border, someone “who came out of nowhere,” he remembers a Syracuse coach telling him that day.
Soon after that, a scholarship offer came his way. “Syracuse was my only offer, and I committed a few days later,” says Bergeron, Thetford’s first athlete to collect an NCAA Division I football scholarship. “Committing to Syracuse was exciting not only for my family, but also my province and Canada because not a lot of athletes come out of Canada and end up being on a DI, Power 5 school. It gave me extra motivation when I came down here. It was like I can’t disappoint my family, my province and all the kids back home who look up to me.”
Today, the 6-foot-5, 322-pound lineman is far from anonymous in the gridiron world. He’s a two-time All-Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) offensive tackle who’s accepted an invitation to the 2023 Senior Bowl and is considered a top NFL prospect. “When Matthew first got his opportunity to play during his freshman year, it was clear from that moment he had tremendous potential,” Syracuse Head Coach Dino Babers says. “Since then, he has driven himself to get better, transformed into a leader and captain on our football team and elevated his play to one of the best offensive tackles in the country.”
Our goal was to get this team back to a bowl game and give everybody the chance to live that experience.—Matthew Bergeron ’23
According to a Pro Football Network scouting report, Bergeron’s “combination of athleticism, power, strength, and fluidity grants him immense potential.”
And when the Orange strap on their helmets for the Bad Boy Mowers Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 29 at Yankee Stadium, Bergeron and his fellow captains will have reached an achievement they had their sights set on. “Our goal was to get this team back to a bowl game and give everybody the chance to live that experience,” says the social work major in the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics, who’s a two-time member of the All-ACC Academic Team. “Also, for the program having the chance to win another trophy means a lot, especially in the ACC.”
Bergeron’s work ethic and talent have had a lasting impact on the Orange. In 2019, as a first-year player, he appeared in all 12 games, moving into the starting lineup in the eighth game. From there, he reeled off 38 straight starts before being sidelined with an injury for the Wake Forest game in November—the only game he’s missed in his four-year Syracuse career. This season he’s burst off the line for 674 snaps, allowing only four sacks and collecting just three penalties. “Playing so much football is something I’m going to cherish my whole life because I know I was blessed with the opportunity to be in that position,” he says. “There’s not many guys who played that many games in their college careers.”
I got so much better by listening to the coaching and trusting coaches’ work, and also having a brotherhood with my teammates.—Matthew Bergeron ’23
Bergeron—who shifted from right tackle to left tackle in his sophomore year—says he kept improving with the experience of being on the field and playing, polishing his hand placement, foot movement and positioning. Ultimately, he attributes his success to the strength staff for keeping him healthy and to his relationships with teammates and coaches. “I got so much better by listening to the coaching and trusting coaches’ work, and also having a brotherhood with my teammates,” he says. “We all push each other to be better, whether it’s the off season or in season, in the weight room or in summer runs or at practice, we always compete. I think that’s the major reason why I’ve been so successful at Syracuse.”
Bergeron has enjoyed his leadership role this season. He’s not a vocal guy, but considers himself a natural-born leader. “I have a great relationship with everybody on the team,” he says. He also believes being a leader on the field has helped him develop as a person. “I feel like it translated to my personal life also—just being able to take care of my family, my friends and being a better person,” he says. “Football teaches you a lot of good values, so I’m trying to take those values that football has taught me to my personal life and vice versa, too.”
Leadership came early to Bergeron. The oldest of four children in a family headed by a single mother at the time, he took on a leadership role in a household where sports were prevalent.
He swam, played basketball, hockey and soccer. He was a big, athletic kid who was a “little chubby” and when he was 14, his mom suggested he give football a try. It was a perfect match—and his family has faithfully cheered him on ever since, regularly traveling to Syracuse and some away games, including Clemson this season. “I fell in love with being an offensive lineman. It is the only position I’ve played,” he says, noting the importance of consistent play while acknowledging it’s not a headline-grabbing, glory position. “You learn to take pride in your job. I enjoy the unselfishness of the position and think it’s a beautiful position.”
Relating to Those in Need
Bergeron’s selfless play matches his persona off the field. He is a natural with kids and relates to those living in difficult circumstances, saying his family received public assistance when he was growing up. “I always wanted to give back to others who were in need because I know it helped me and my family a lot,” he says.
Football teaches you a lot of good values, so I’m trying to take those values that football has taught me to my personal life and vice versa, too.—Matthew Bergeron ’23
One of his most memorable experiences as a social work student was an internship last summer with the Huntington Family Centers, where he worked in the after-school program with inner-city children. With an awareness of child poverty and other issues the kids encounter, Bergeron says he wanted to be a role model—they liked knowing a football player—and help them set goals. “It was important telling them that anything is possible with hard work and dedication,” he says. “Especially when you see poverty around you every day, it’s tough to set those kinds of positive goals for yourself, so just being there for them, relating to their issues and their love for sports was cool.”
Bergeron knows how hard work and dedication can lead to success on the field and in the classroom. Syracuse Athletics ranks in the top 10 among Power 5 schools’ Graduation Success Rate at 93%—a testament to the commitment of Syracuse student-athletes like Bergeron to their academics. And with the NFL on the horizon, the senior is looking forward to the future. “I’m really grateful to be in the position of having a chance to play in the NFL, especially from where I’m from,” he says. “I’m pretty excited for the challenge ahead of me.”