Sunday, May 24, 2015

Keeping the Super Bowl Secure
February 27, 2014 by Jamie Ward | No Comments

"I think (Hilltoppers football) played a huge factor in a lot of our lives," Matt McCummins, 2002 Chardon graduate

Matt McCummins credits his entire path on the lessons he learned as a Chardon Hilltopper football player.

“That was the structure building stage for my whole life, I’d say. The discipline, the dedication and the commitment were huge factors.”

He has a message for the current group, as well: “Stick with it. Give it your best. Listen to your coaches.”

But who would have thought that the team center, who graduated in 2002 and went on to accrue eight years of military experience, would (sort of) one day make it to the Super Bowl?

McCummins, who works for the Transportation Security Administration, and his K-9, Ike, were among the security at the Newark Liberty International Airport for the some 60,000 people arriving for Super Bowl XLVIII.

As the Seattle Seahawks were dismantling the Denver Broncos, McCummins watched from a hotel room. But his selection provided him with a rare opportunity in his field — a security Super Bowl, of sorts.

And security has been on a lot of people’s minds this month; think winter Olympics.

“Basically they called up 20 teams from across the country to provide extra support for the increased flight traffic,” McCummins said. “I was the one team from Cleveland.” A team consists of a handler and a dog.

“It wasn’t intimidating,” said McCummins, given he has worked with security dogs for 10 years now, mostly within the Army. “I’m kind of relaxed with it when it comes to these things.”

K-9 teams scanned passengers as they walked through the checkpoint preparing to go into security.

“Our dogs are passively searching them,” he said. “One in 10 might get a wet nose on them.”

McCummins called it “a great opportunity — the experience alone, seeing how different airports operate compared to Cleveland. They are much larger.”

His full time job is at Cleveland Hopkins Airport.

“This was definitely the first of this kind,” he said of the Super Bowl stint.

McCummins, who still lives in Chardon, played football under coach Bob Doyle till his junior year and Jim DiPofi his senior year. He joined the Army the year he graduated.

It was September 11, 2001, that sent McCummins to a recruiting station.

His military career took him to Iraq three times to route security, search for IEDs and look for weapon caches, among other work. He and his first dog, Arik, a narcotic protector German Shepherd, did a lot of high-value target searches, looking for individual people, he said.

Growing up on a farm, McCummins felt drawn to the dogs because of his experience with animals. He participated in 4-H and in 2004 became a K-9 handler.

“You couldn’t pay me to do another job,” he said.

In 2013, McCummins was hired by the TSA and went to its K-9 school.

His training and mission are a bit different, from searching to scanning. But the adjustment has been easy, he thinks.

His other dogs included Talley, an explosives detection dog; Otta; and Ari.

But Ike, who he got in January 2013, is the first K-9 he takes home with him each night, as well as the first Yellow Labrador Retriever of the bunch. Ike is McCummins’ pet, a floppy-eared specialist that is less intimidating for passengers.

It was the script “Chardon” on McCummins helmet that thrust him into a life of discipline and keeping others safe, as he did as quarterback all those years ago.

He was a freshman on the 1998 team; being part of the state runner-up provided stepping stones.

“I think (Hilltoppers football) played a huge factor in a lot of our lives,” he said.

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