"I heard he was great at every sport he was playing – soccer, basketball, baseball and, of course, football," Shevlin said. Though the tape measure showed Engle was just 5-foot-6 at the time, he stood head and shoulders above his competition.
Four years later, the El Segundo quarterback has grown to a shade under 6-foot, but he stands much taller on the football field. Having shattered every passing record in school history, he now has his sights set on breaking state standards. And, if some big-time college will take a chance on the diminutive signal caller, he could pile up big yardage at the next level as well.
When Engle was a little tyke, he always fancied himself as a lineman who could also catch passes. That's understandable, since his father, Gene, has been offensive line coach at El Camino College for the past 20 years. "I thought I'd be a tight end," Matt Engle said, "because I had pretty good hands and a solid build."
But he also could throw the ball, thanks to years as a little league baseball pitcher, and gravitated naturally to the quarterback position. Growing up with the game, Engle was ready for the varsity by the time he was a high school freshman, but had to sit behind a senior, Ryan Gilbert, who led the South Bay in passing that year.
"Coach wanted me to learn the ropes from the senior guy," Engle said, "so that I'd be ready to step in my sophomore year."
Starting all 10 games his sophomore year, Engle threw for 2,200 yards and 19 touchdowns. Last year, in a season shortened one game by the tragedies of Sept. 11, the strong-armed field general threw the pill 2,900 yards with 30 scoring strikes. It's hard to believe, but through four victories this year, Engle's been even better, averaging 350 yards a game through the air with 17 passing touchdowns against just one interception.
Those numbers have Engle within striking distance of an all-time passing mark in the state of California. According to the Cal-Hi Sports Record Book and Almanac, the record for most regular season passing yards in a career is 8,440, set by Newbury Park quarterback Keith Smith from 1991-93. With six games left in the regular season, Engle needs just 1,950 passing yards to break the record. And if he continues on his touchdown pass pace, Engle should climb into the top five all-time in career regular season touchdown strikes.
Everyone knew Engle was good, but all-time good in the state of California?
"Matt's been preparing to play quarterback all for a while," Shevlin said. "Because of his dad, he's been around passing schemes his whole life. He reminds me of Joe Montana. He takes what the defense gives him. And his vision is uncanny. You can see him checking his reads. You don't see that at the high school level."
Engle, who has a 3.9 GPA, said that his mind gives him an advantage on the field.
"I'm not going to overpower people with my running game or throw the ball 80 yards," he explained. "I have to beat people by outthinking them."
The quarterback, who also kicks field goals and extra points for the Eagles, admits to being a tad frustrated by the lack of Division I attention he's been receiving because of his size. USC has called in the last week and Nevada and Montana have shown the most interest but have yet to offer. That may mean a stint at El Camino to turn more heads.
"Do you want a guy who's 6-4 and looks good warming up, or a guy who's 5-11 and can get the job done?" Engle asked. "I just want someone to give me a chance."