Army veteran turned football warrior

Matt Sprouse is a former U.S. Army Ranger who is now a member of Saddleback Gauchos' football team. (Photograph/Courtesy of Saddleback Sports Information Office)

Matt Sprouse is a former U.S. Army Ranger who is now a member of Saddleback Gauchos’ football team. (Photograph/Courtesy of Saddleback Sports Information Office)

Whether it is making the game-saving tackle in the championship game or dealing with the defeat from an arch-rival team, nothing compares to what Saddleback Gauchos‘ safety and former U.S. Army Ranger Matt Sprouse has been through in his life.

He never thought that he would end up saving a life – the life of his lieutenant, Adam Dortona, in East Baghdad, Iraq several years ago.

“We were just in a fire fight.  [Dortona] decided to run out in the middle of it, and I just pulled him back before [he was hit], which was pretty good timing ‘cause he was being targeted,” said Sprouse, 29, business major, with regard to that night in 2007.

In an article written in the Saddleback Valley News by Joey Ramirez, Dortona praised Sprouse’s efforts in Iraq.

“He was smarter than everybody else. He was more physically fit than anybody else.  I owe him a lot of credit for cleaning up the streets of East Baghdad,” Dortona said in the article.

Sprouse grew up in South Carolina and graduated from Stratford High School in 2003.  He served two different tours with the Army before settling in San Clemente, California.  He says he is now acclimated to “nine-to-five” life.  He explained that the staff at Saddleback, friends he has made since returning and his football and track coaches have helped him a lot.

“It wasn’t the easiest transition. I’ve had a lot of support from friends and family,” Sprouse said. “Saddleback is just a happy place to be. This is a really big chapter in my life being here.”

As a safety for the Gauchos, Sprouse will attempt to intercept more “high-valued targets” like he did in Iraq.

“I love football,” he said, explaining why he chose to play the sport while attending Saddleback. “I’ve been watching it all my life. I played when I was a kid. Just figured I would give it a shot.”

Before joining the military, Sprouse had aspirations of playing baseball as a pitcher. Those hopes faded when he suffered an arm injury right before his senior year of high school. His first year at Saddleback, he ran track and red shirted for the football team.

“The way that this team’s come together has definitely kept me around to play football here,” he said. “It’s definitely something I want to be a part of here, especially this season.”

The Gauchos season is off to a rough start. After three straight losses, Saddleback finally won a game against Palomar College 42-31, making them 1-3 for the season.

“The team this year is really close… I got a good feeling we’re gonna run the table from here on out, as long as we stay healthy,” Sprouse said.

Saddleback will be searching for its second win this Saturday against Santa Ana College. Sprouse will try to help his team get the victory much like he did for a much larger team in Iraq.

For more on the Matt Sprouse’s story click here.