for Jake and Mike Matthews, football is a way of life
by Chandler Smith
special to AggieAthletics.com
Not long ago did Jake and Mike Matthews anchor the offensive line in unison – albeit briefly – for Elkins High School just outside of Houston. Only a few miles northeast did their father, Bruce Matthews, begin his illustrious NFL career as an offensive lineman en route to 14 Pro Bowl appearances and placement in the NFL’s venerable Pro Football Hall of Fame.
For the Matthews family, an army of some of the sport’s greatest talent, football is a way of life. Jake and Mike were no exception.
Enter 2013 and the brothers are still chasing the dream, this time as comrades-in-arms at Texas A&M. Jake and Mike join together as starters in what now stands as one of the most anticipated seasons in school history. No matter the result, both will be present for the ride and possess a substantial say as to where it leads them.
At its core, the Matthews’ passion and prowess has origins from the home.
- Jake Matthews
Already the sons of arguably the greatest offensive lineman to ever play, Jake and Mike share a deep involvement in football with their brother Kevin Matthews (center, Washington Redskins) and cousins Clay Matthews III (linebacker, Green Bay Packers), Casey Matthews (linebacker, Philadelphia Eagles) and Kyle Matthews (safety, University of Southern California). With so many relatives involved, the experience for the younger Matthews involved gazing as brothers and cousins blossomed.
“It’s exciting, there’s always something going on,” Mike said. “I remember when we first saw Clay make the big time, he was on all these magazines. It was kind of shocking at first but I got used to it. Now Jake’s become a big deal, but it’s always fun on Sundays looking for my cousins or brothers.”
With former and current NFL stars as a grandfather, father, uncle and cousin, the Matthews football kingdom rivals even the Mannings in the football family totem pole.
For Jake and Mike, the Matthews family legacy is an inescapable reality but simultaneously exists as a profound point of pride – and something worth furthering.
“Everywhere you go, that’s the first impression everyone has of you,” Jake said. “We enjoyed growing up watching our uncle play, watching our dad play; watching our brothers and cousins playing in the NFL right now. We really want to carry on our legacy, not because we have to, but because we really enjoy doing it as a family.”
To continue that legacy means learning from those who excelled down the family line. For the Matthews brothers, “those” includes a NFL Hall-of-Famer who doubles as a father.
Not to be outdone, Jake and Mike have both achieved success in their own right. Jake, already the recipient of All-American and All-SEC honors, is now projected as one of the NFL’s most coveted linemen. Mike, meanwhile, will be starting for a national-title contender at the center position as a true sophomore and will do so on one of the best offensive line units in the country.
The tutelage has paid off.
“It really is such a great blessing having someone to talk to who played in the NFL for 19 years, is a Pro Football Hall of Famer and knows what it takes,” Jake said. “Just to have someone you can talk to during any time of the day, it’s really special. I really credit him a lot for what I learned and the player that I am because I don’t think I could do any of those things without him.”
Now, not unlike his father, Jake plays the role of mentor for his younger brother and fellow teammate. Once on the verge of leaving early for the NFL Draft with former teammate Luke Joeckel, Jake opted to remain in the Maroon and White.
His primary reason – alongside his love for the school and potential of the team – was that he couldn’t pass up the chance to play with his family.
“I just enjoy going to school here so much, I wanted to stay and finish up my degree,” Jake said. “There’s the opportunity to play with my brother and we have a great team. There’s so much going on here right now and I wasn’t ready to leave yet. I’m glad I decided to stay.”
Mike, meanwhile, has been more than receptive of his brother’s decision and role as a mentor. Still learning the ropes, he leans heavily on Jake’s background of collegiate experience.
“The game has changed so much from high school to college. With my dad coaching, I still talk to him but Jake’s been there longer so he knows,” Mike said. “[Jake] talked to our dad the past couple years and [Bruce] is still coaching him up. We go and watch film together and he says, ‘You gotta do this, you gotta do that.’ I take that advice.”
As Mike will soon experience, Jake knows what it’s like learning through trial by fire.
Desperate for assistance along the offensive line in 2010, then-head coach Mike Sherman opted to start two promising true freshmen at tackle. As one of the two freshmen (Joeckel being the other), Jake understands Mike’s circumstance starting without much college football experience and gives him guidance when possible.
“Just take the coaching, there’s so much he still has to learn and same with me,” Jake said. “Every day we go out there is just another opportunity to get better at our game, perfect our craft and work on the little things that make us better offensive linemen.”
Yet – at the end of the day – the Matthews are still brothers. They’ll always have each other’s back.
“Just your typical older brother and younger brother; I look out for him, he looks out for me,” Mike said. “I look up to him and he sets an example for me. I just try to follow in his footsteps.”
Just a year ago at this time, national pundits wondered if Texas A&M could ever truly compete in the SEC. An Alabama upset, 11-2 win season and Heisman Trophy later, those questions have been answered pointedly.
Many of those questions revolved around the Aggies new offense. Could a gimmicky “Air-Raid” (or air-raid variant) offense work in the SEC? As it turns out, head coach Kevin Sumlin’s offense sent seismic shockwaves through the conference.
Though for as much credit as quarterback Johnny Manziel received for his offensive contributions, the Texas A&M offensive line was as elite a unit as they come. With center Patrick “The General” Lewis pushing the tempo and four potential NFL first-round draft picks surrounding him, Manziel and running back Ben Malena could largely do as they pleased.
Now in the second year of Sumlin’s system, gone is an All-American left tackle in Joeckel and a highly-seasoned center in Lewis.
Filling those roles? Jake and Mike.
“We’ve definitely been working just as hard and I know Coach [B.J.] Anderson is getting us ready for it,” Jake said. “I think we can be just as good, I think we’re a little bit different. It’s hard to have the exact same type of player in there but we know what to do and how to get the job done.”
While three veteran upperclassmen will be returning to provide another stout presence up front, many of them – with the exception of Jarvis Harrison – will be moving positions. The line will also be breaking in a freshman and sophomore, including Mike.
Texas A&M offensive line coach B.J. Anderson said he’s been pleased with Mike’s progress.
“Mike’s had a really good camp, he’s had a good summer, he’s got his weight up, he’s worked hard in the film room to ID our offense,” Anderson said. “He has to be the general out there. I expect him to keep working and he’ll be ready.”
But just as Lewis performed in 2012, so Mike must do in 2013. Among his many duties will be pushing the tempo of Sumlin’s high-powered no-huddle offense – a task Lewis executed in spades.
“[The center] targets our passing game, they target our running game and something most people don’t talk about is they control our tempo,” Anderson said. “That’s so important to our staff and our team. The center is the one pushing the tempo. [Mike]’s done a nice job so far.”
Jake will also be filling some sizable shoes as he makes the transition from right to left tackle. Outland award-winning lineman Joeckel, A&M’s previous left tackle, opted to leave early for the NFL and was selected No. 2 overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
For those wondering how Jake will fare in his new role, Anderson said he was more than confident in his left tackle’s abilities.
“What makes him unique is he’s got as good of footwork and fundamentals as anyone I’ve ever coached,” Anderson said. “He gives himself a chance no matter what happens on the play just because of his technique and fundamentals. He’s an explosive guy in the run game. He’s really athletic on his pass sets. He understands how to identify the rush. He’s a complete player.”
With national championship hopes on the line in 2013 beginning today with Rice, the offensive line will need to be prepared for the game that could decide it all – a September 14 showdown with defending National Champion Alabama.
Jake said the line could mesh faster with more familiarity in the system.
“We’re not really thinking as much and it’s all coming kind of second-nature,” Jake said. “Hopefully this year, being in it for a second year, will really help guys learn. I know Mike learned a lot last year. He and Germain Ifedi travelled and both practiced with us so they’re used to it and they know what to expect. I think they’re going to be ready.”