In the Sword & Shield Room at Righetti High School that was packed with supporters, Righetti senior Matthew Graack officially inked his decision concerning his next academic and athletic stop en route to serving his country.
Graack signed to play football for the United States Merchant Marines Academy (USMMA) that is based in Kings Point, New York, on Monday. Graack was an All-Area Second Team selection at offensive guard at Righetti, and he said he will likely either play that position or center at USMMA.
"I just really liked the idea of going somewhere where I would get a chance to play right away, and I really enjoyed the culture, being able to surround myself with good people and good coaches," said Graack.
Graack said his education will be fully paid for. The federal government pays the majority of the costs associated with enrollment at USMMA. Midshipmen there receive tuition, room and board, uniforms and textbooks at no cost.
Graack was a starter at offensive guard for a Righetti team that won the 2021 CIF Central Section Division 5 championship and made it to the divisional state championship game before losing 16-0 to Atherton Sacred Heart Prep. The Warriors struggled in a tough Mountain League in 2022 and did not make the postseason.
Besides playing on the varsity football team for three years, Graack also competed in wrestling, in the 285-pound weight class, and competed in the shot put and discus in track at Righetti.
Graack said he spoke with two St. Paul, Minnesota-based schools, Macalester College and Hamline University, both of whom offered him partial scholarships. The Righetti senior said that, upon visiting the USMMA campus in Kings Point, he was hooked.
"It's beautiful. It's right on the water," said Graack. "I can't wait to get out there."
Graack said he was impressed with the coaches when he visited the USMMA campus last November then got a good vibe when he met some of the USMMA team members last February.
"Pretty much the whole setup at USMMA won me over," said Graack.
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The Mariners compete at the NCAA Division 3 level and play in the Skyline Conference. USSMMA was a solid 6-3, 4-2 last season.
As far as his service commitment after he graduates from USMMA, "There are two options," said Graack.
"One is active duty in any branch of the military for four years. The other is the U.S. Navy Reserves for eight years."
Graack said he plans to major in Maritime Logistics and Security at USMMA.
"With that program, I'll probably do something on an oil rig or a shipyard," Graack said.
His father, Joe Graack, a veteran teacher at Righetti, and mother, Lori Graack, were at the signing ceremony for Matthew.
Lori Graack said, "Matthew has really worked hard for this, and we are so proud, and excited for him."
"Matthew's first varsity season at Righetti was the COVID season," Joe Graack said to the assembled audience.
Then, to the Righetti coaching staff and teachers there, "Matthew owes you guys," Joe Graack said. "We're here today because of you."
Kenny Cress is a sports reporter for the Santa Maria Times, covering local sports in northern Santa Barbara County. You can send information or story ideas to him by emailing it to KCress@SantaMariaTimes.com.