Dalton High School football coach Matt Land isn't one to go around looking for awards, but last week he received one that he felt was his perfect fit.
Land was named on Dec. 9 as the Don Shula High School Coach of the Year by the Atlanta Falcons, one of 32 high school coaches who received the honor around the country.
While each team in the National Football League chooses one coach, the award is always based on the individual's "integrity, achievement, and leadership exemplified by the winningest coach in NFL history, Don Shula."
"What I love so much about this award is that it is really about what I am doing to build in my community," Land said. "For people know me, this profession is my ministry and my calling.
"It's a tremendous honor for me and for my family."
The award was presented at a dinner by Atlanta Falcons Community Relations Manager Amanda Dinkel who first met Land last spring when the organization hosted a youth football camp at Dalton High.
From there, Dinkel said she had the time to chat with Land about everything that he's done during his 10-year and ongoing stint with the Catamounts.
"That was really when I got the chance to realize how great he was as a person and a coach," Dinkel recalls of the pair's first meeting.
As far as choosing Land for the award, Dinkel said she and her staff were especially struck by how obvious Land's compassion for his team, his program and his school is portrayed in his everyday life.
The award was created by the NFL and first given in 2010 when it was available to a coach at any level. It became exclusive to high school coaches in 2011. Each representative from the 32 NFL teams is invited to the Pro Bowl, held on Jan. 26 at the Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida. The award winners are then narrowed down to two finalists for the Don Shula NFL High School Coach of the Year. Each will receive $15,000, with $10,000 going to their high school's football program and are invited to the Super Bowl.
The national winner will be revealed with the remainder of the league's highest awards at the NFL Honors presentation on the night before the Super Bowl, held this year at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.
Dinkel said the selection process is different for every NFL team, but the Falcons look especially for a coach who has done incredible work and has a great story. She said it usually is one of the team's coaches of the week -- given out 10 times a year during the season -- but Land just had something special.
"You call tell he cares about his players and his community," Dinkel said of Land. "He is dedicated to making sure the youth in the area always has an opportunity to play, grow and learn."
When given the award, Land was under the impression he was invited to the Falcons' annual Community Honors Dinner to be recognized as a group for the work he has done this year with a high school football committee of about six coaches across the state.
Land and the committee were recognized, but then Dinkel kept going on about one individual.
It was him.
"Yeah, it was a total shock," Land said with a smile. "I should have known something was up when I turned around and my wife was holding up her phone recording the whole thing."
While there is a piece of the award about achievement -- exemplified by Land's guidance to lead the Catamounts to eight playoffs appearances in his 10 seasons with the school -- he said he has no plans to stop what really makes his job special.
"Ultimately what I'm trying to build is the next great dad or the next great husband," Land said. "If I'm doing that, then the other stuff takes care of itself."