Initially underrated, Forte quickly became invaluable at every level

AMONG THE BEST: Slidell native and Tulane product Matt Forte still ranks among elite NFL backs for running and receiving production, and heads into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame this weekend. (Photo courtesy of Chicago Bears/LSHOF)

NOTE — This is part of a series of stories profiling the 12-person Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2023, who will be inducted to culminate three days of festivities in Natchitoches beginning Thursday. For tickets and more information, visit or call 318-238-4255. 

By LENNY VANGILDER, Written for the LSWA

Recruiting services listed Matt Forte as a fullback coming out of Slidell High School. He would make his mark over four years at Tulane and 10 more in the NFL as a lead back.

To his former high school coach, Wayne Grubb, the letters next to his name didn’t matter.

“I always referred to him as a football player,” Grubb said. “He did other things like run track, but he was a football player.”

Forte – who rolled up more than 3,000 yards from scrimmage in high school, another 5,000 at Tulane and better than 14,000 in 10 seasons in the NFL – is part of the 2023 induction class of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame being honored beginning Thursday in Natchitoches.

Underrated might have also been an accurate way to describe Forte, who was rated only a two-star recruit by

Current Slidell High School principal Larry Favre had a unique vantage point to Forte’s high school career – the opposite sideline. As head coach at Fontainebleau High School in 2002 and 2003, Favre’s teams faced Forte and Slidell three times – twice in the regular season and once in the playoffs.

“He had over 800 yards in those three games against us,” Favre said. “I always told Matt that when it was time for (recruiting visits), all he had to do was put those Fontainebleau tapes in.”

To a degree, Forte was ahead of his time. By the time his high school career was over, not only had he posted a pair of 1,000-yard rushing seasons with 31 touchdowns, but he caught 48 passes and had another five receiving touchdowns.

On the recruiting front, LSU showed some interest, but the Tigers’ head coach at the time, Nick Saban, was only signing one back in the 2004 recruiting class – Jacob Hester of Evangel Christian. Signing that two-star recruit worked out well. So did Forte.

Tulane was on him early and he committed to the Green Wave shortly after his high school football career ended in December 2003, following in the footsteps of his father, Gene, who played for the Wave in the 1970s and was captain of the 1977 squad.

His son’s career was solid but not spectacular until 2007, his senior year, when injury-free, Forte was a load that most opposing defenses could not handle.

He started piling up the numbers in a victory over Southeastern Louisiana in the third week of the season – 40 carries for school records of 303 yards and five touchdowns.

The yardage record lasted all of 28 days. Four Saturdays later at SMU, Forte had 38 carries for 342 yards and four touchdowns in a victory over the Mustangs.

Forte finished his senior season as only the 11th player in Football Bowl Subdivision history to top to top the 2,000-yard mark on the ground.

His 361 carries, 2,127 yards, 23 rushing touchdowns and eight consecutive 100-yard games all remain school records. Forte also set Tulane career records with 4,265 rushing yards, 5,261 all-purpose yards, 39 rushing touchdowns and 44 total touchdowns.

The Chicago Bears selected Forte with the 44th overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, and it wouldn’t take him long to land in the same spotlight that had previously been occupied by the likes of Gale Sayers and Walter Payton.

Forte started his first NFL game, and ended his rookie season with 1,236 yards rushing, 63 receptions, more than 1,700 yards from scrimmage and a dozen total touchdowns. That, however, was good for only fourth in The Associated Press’ NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year voting.

In eight seasons with the Bears, Forte’s worst rushing season was 898 yards. He topped the 1,000-yard mark five times, including a career best 1,339 yards in 2013, when he earned his second Pro Bowl selection.

In 2014, Forte joined an exclusive club. He had 1,038 yards rushing and 102 receptions, joining eventual Pro Football Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson as the only NFL players at that time to top 1,000 yards and 100 catches. (Christian McCaffrey has since joined the group.)

After eight seasons with Chicago in which he rolled up 8,602 rushing yards and 45 touchdowns, Forte moved on to the New York Jets, where he played his final two seasons.

For someone as grounded in his faith as Forte, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that when he announced his retirement in February 2018 after a decade in the NFL, it wasn’t a story given to ESPN or a major NFL writer, but to the faith-based website Sports Spectrum.

“After much prayer and reflection, I’ve decided to retire from the NFL,” Forte said in his statement. “Like so many others before me, this game has enhanced my life in numerous ways. My career in the League has been nothing short of a miracle granted by God and put on display for His glory. I will cherish the many memories made on the field and the lifelong friends I’ve made over the years in the locker room.

“The past 25 years playing America’s game have left me with unparalleled joy. But, it’s time for the workhorse to finally rest in his stable.”

His decade in the NFL was indeed that of a workhorse – 2,356 rushes for 9,796 yards and 68 touchdowns, to go along with 554 catches for 4,672 yards and another 21 scores. In 146 career games, Forte touched the ball an average of 20 times per game.

In his post-playing days, Forte continues to assist in community efforts, working with the team at Biblica Ministry, speaking at churches, and assisting youth and families through his What’s Your Forte Foundation.

His impact – on and off the field – isn’t lost on those back at his former high school.

“When you look at his entire career, no one has had that career during my 23 years in St. Tammany (Parish),” said Favre. “To do it at Tulane, and the NFL, and now going into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, he’s the most accomplished player to come from here.”