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LaGrange College coach finds his calling

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

He felt like it was the right opportunity at the right time.

Matt Donnett, who graduated from Troup High and played tennis at Columbus State University, was working in the information technology sector more than a decade ago when an opening arose to become the head coach for the LaGrange College tennis program.

After plenty of discussion with his wife Amber, Donnett decided to make the leap, and he hasn’t looked back.

Donnett has completed his 11th school year at LaGrange College, and it has become not just a home for him, but for his son Jake, a special-needs teenager who can almost always be seen by his dad’s side.

“I’d coached at Callaway Gardens with Bill Champion every summer when I was in college,” Donnett said. “I was still privately coaching some adult and kids on the side, and I was out of town six or eight weeks at a time with IT work. Jake was young, and coach (Phil) Williamson called me up and asked me if I’d ever thought about getting into college coaching.”

Donnett said that he and Amber “prayed a lot about it, and talked a lot about it. We thought the schedules would be good. Jake’s at every match. It was a great fit for the family.”

Donnett, after graduating from Troup High in 1992, spent four seasons as a member of the Columbus State University tennis program playing with Evan Isaacs who is now the coach, and he calls that “an awesome experience.”

“I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” he added. “I still talk to some of those guys, and Evan and I are still close. It’s nice to see how well they’ve done.”

Donnett said “I got out of college and went into the IT world,” before later finding his calling as the tennis coach at LaGrange College.

Donnett has helped the program grow and thrive, and the men’s team is coming off a 2019 season where it went 11-4 overall and 10-2 in the USA South.

The women’s team, meanwhile, had five consecutive seasons of finishing at .500 or better starting in 2013.

The 2020 season was unfortunately cut short because of the coronavirus pandemic, with the Panthers playing just five matches before everything came to a close.

“The college is a place that I believe in,” Donnett said. “I love the place. With coach Williamson and coach (Jennifer) Claybrook and the presidents, we’ve had tons of support with the tennis program.”

Donnett also knows he will always have the support of his son Jake, who has Cerebral Palsy but is an active teenager who enjoys playing tennis.

“If you ask him what he wants to do when he gets out of school, and he’s like, go to work with my dad,” Donnett said. “That’s all he wants to do. He wants to come to work at my office.”