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Jerry Davich: Matt Forte on faith, education and, oh yeah, football

Jerry Davich with Matt Forte Chicago Bears. | Post-Tribune photo

Jerry Davich with Matt Forte of the Chicago Bears. | Post-Tribune photo

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Updated: July 26, 2013 10:19PM



The voice on the other end of my cell phone sounded familiar but it still took me by surprise.

“This is Matt,” said Matt Forte of the Bears.

“Oh,” I replied. “Well, sorry Matt but I can’t seem to find your home. I’m close, though. Can you direct me?”

Forte didn’t seem to mind, kindly guiding me to his French Normandy-style house near Lake Forest, Ill., home of the Bears’ headquarters and training facility.

Within a couple of minutes I drove along a winding road and through a gate to his spacious and beautiful home. A few minutes later, I was sitting in his living room, pinching myself that I was actually there.

Forte was getting ready to leave for Bourbonnais, Ill., later that day for training camp, which begins Friday morning under new head coach Marc Trestman. Still, the star running back was extremely gracious to me, candid with his feelings, and generous with his time during our 90-minute chat.

The 27-year-old self-described “country boy” from Slidell, La., enjoys hunting, fishing, and being outdoors, which explains his new home, surrounded by woods, not people.

“In my old neighborhood, everything was open and people would just knock on the door,” he told me, glancing out a window. “Here, it’s more rural, more private.”

Sporting studded earrings in both ears and tattoos on his muscular arms, the 6-foot-2 Forte looked lean and ready for the new NFL season, which kicks off for the Bears on Sept. 8 against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Forte had a busy offseason, including his typically tough workout sessions each day — first running for an hour or so, followed by weightlifting for a couple of hours. He also found a new hill to climb for training purposes near his new home. He simply calls it “the hill” and he told me how to find it on my way back home to Indiana.

When I asked the soft-spoken Forte if he’s shy, he replied that he’s more humble than anything. His faith in God and knowledge of biblical scripture was a recurring point of conversation during our talk.

This helps explain his familiar touchdown celebration, which looks like he’s simply flexing his biceps in front of the cheering crowd and end-zone cameras. In fact, he’s giving thanks to God for giving him his strength, pointing to heaven before he flexes his bulging muscles.

Since coming into the league in 2008 as the Bears’ second-round draft choice (44th overall), he routinely gets the same sports-cliché questions about football from fans, analysts and sportswriters.

“That’s all I get,” he told me with a sigh.

The most common question these days: “Are you ready for the new season?”

“Yeah, I’m ready,” Forte said while rolling his eyes.

Forte, who is proud of his endurance and reliability on the field in the most punishing position in football, said his body feels great and he’s ready to go. He’s also looking forward to the new challenge of Trestman’s complex and aggressive playbook.

In May, Forte joined the raging debate on Bulls star Derek Rose and his delayed return from a serious knee injury. Unlike most everyone who reads this column, Forte knows what it takes to come back from an injury to play professional sports at such an elite level.

He tweeted: “Until you’ve played at a professional level after knee surgery then you can speak on D. Rose situation. If not shhhhhhh.”

Earlier this month, he offered another tweet that had me laughing because it’s so true about most non-athletes: “U ever see people in the airport run that don’t normally run? Too funny.”

Forte’s quiet humor comes across easily and naturally while talking about anything besides football, though he’s a prankster in the locker room and also with his family.

He warmly praised his big brother, Bryan, who still lives in Slidell. And he cites his parents as key role models in his life. They are part of the reason he returned to Tulane University (where his father played football, too) after his NFL rookie year to complete his degree in finance.

“‘Faith, family, education and then football,’ is what my dad always told me,” he said. “It was important to me to graduate from college. It was one of the best feelings in my life.”

Like most professional athletes, Forte loves to play video games, but he laughed when I asked if he plays as much as other Bears players.

“Some of those guys play to like two or three in the morning,” he said.

“But me, I only play to like 11 at night,” he said with a smile. “At least I used to.”

If you recall, Forte made his regular-season debut on Sept. 7, 2008, against the Colts, carrying the ball 23 times for 123 yards and setting a franchise record for most yards gained in a running back’s debut.

These days, Forte is possibly at the peak of his career, with high expectations this year under a new coaching regime and new players brought into the fold. I’m guessing he will easily surpass last season’s career lows of 44 receptions and 340 receiving yards under former offensive coordinator Mike Tice’s one-dimensional attack, mostly to wide receiver Brandon Marshall.

But even at age 27, Forte is already contemplating life after football.

“Yeah, I’m thinking about it more than I used to,” said Forte, who is now a family man with a 4-month-old daughter. “Everything has changed for me since she was born.”

He’s not exactly sure what he will do after his last NFL game, but he believes it will involve teaching kids about faith, life skills and football. Probably in that order. He didn’t hesitate to politely autograph a trading card for my girlfriend’s 14-year-old son, and he even had a Sharpie on hand to do so.

“No problem at all,” he kindly told me.

On a recent training run at “the hill” near his home, a group of young girls recognized him while playing softball nearby. They quietly watched him sprint to the top and when he reached it, they cheered in unison, raising their arms to yell, “Touchdown!”

Like all Bears fans, I’m hoping he will climb the approaching hill called the 2013 NFL season with similar pinnacle-reaching results.

Connect with Jerry via email, at jdavich@post-trib.com, voice mail, at 713-7237, or Facebook, Twitter, and his blog, at jerrydavich.wordpress.com.



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