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Family First

September 11, 2013
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Courtesy: Texas A&M Athletics
(photo: Texas A&M Athletics)

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FAMILY FIRST

opportunity to play with his brother on a special team
was too much for Jake Matthews to pass up

by Rusty Burson
12th Man Magazine

Shortly after the conclusion of the 2012 football season, Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews approached his father in search of some sage paternal advice.

The 6-foot-5, 305-pound Matthews had just completed his outstanding junior season in which he had played an integral role in helping the Aggies lead the Southeastern Conference in rushing, passing, scoring and total offense and rank third nationally in total offense and scoring offense. The multi-talented Matthews had earned first-team All-American honors from the Football Writers of America Association and had garnered first-team All-SEC recognition from the league’s coaches and the Associated Press.

He’d accomplished many of the goals he had first envisioned when he arrived in Aggieland as part of the heralded 2010 recruiting class, and he knew that if he placed his name in the 2013 NFL Draft—like fellow A&M offensive lineman Luke Joeckel had chosen to do—he could fulfill a lifelong dream and would likely go in the top half of the first round.

"I think he made the right decision for him. He loves A&M and is intent on fully enjoying his senior season. It should be really special for him."

- Bruce Matthews, NFL HOFer and Jake's dad

Matthews fully understood all that could be gained by following the money to the NFL. But it wasn’t until he spoke to his father that he fully began to comprehend what could be lost by not following his heart and staying for his senior season at A&M.

Jake Matthews would love to one day follow in his father’s legendary NFL footsteps, as Bruce Matthews played 19 seasons with the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007.

The elder Matthews played in more games (296) than any positional player in NFL history at the time of his retirement in ’01 and earned 14 consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl. The former All-American from the University of Southern California is arguably the greatest offensive lineman in NFL history.

Bruce played so well and did so many things right that he has almost no regrets about anything associated with his sensational professional football career.

But there is one thing he’d do differently if he could go back in time, Matthews said recently from the Titans’ headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., where he is the team’s offensive line coach. That one thing is what he told Jake about when his son approached him seeking advice.

“My experience in college football at USC was incredible,” said Bruce, who paved the way for Charles White and Marcus Allen to win Heisman Trophies. “We had the program rolling. My freshman year we had six future No. 1 draft picks on our offensive line. There was a lot of really good football being played. But in looking back, I wish I had embraced the moments and enjoyed the college experience more instead of just thinking about moving on to the NFL.

“I told Jake that if he enjoyed A&M as much as he appears to be enjoying it, there’s no hurry to go to the next level. I said, ‘God has a plan for your life. Don’t think you are going to miss out on anything in the NFL by coming back to A&M.’ He also wanted to play with (his younger brother and starting center) Mikey. The success the team had last year was also a huge factor. We’re all confident they are going to do great things this year. We’ve also been blessed financially so going to the next level is not something he needs to do. I think he made the right decision for him. He loves A&M and is intent on fully enjoying his senior season. It should be really special for him.”

It could also be special for the Aggies thanks in large part to Matthews’ decision to return. Last season, Luke Joeckel became the first A&M player to ever win the Outland Trophy. The imposing left tackle elected to forgo his senior season and was chosen last April by Jacksonville with the second overall pick of the first round.

Joeckel’s early departure leaves a huge void from last year’s offensive line, which may have been the best overall unit in school history. But replacing Joeckel seems far more manageable because of Matthews’ decision to return. Matthews makes the move from right to left tackle, while extremely talented junior Cedric Ogbuehi transitions from guard to right tackle.

If Ogbuehi returns for his senior season in 2014 and everything goes as planned, it’s not too far-fetched to envision A&M producing three consecutive left tackles who are selected among the top 10 picks in three consecutive NFL Drafts.

“All three of us—Luke, me and Cedric—were all part of the same recruiting class,” said the understated, well-spoken Jake Matthews, one of the early favorites for the 2013 Outland Trophy. “We take a lot of pride in what we’ve accomplished so far at A&M and what we can do down the road. It’s cool to hear all the great things that Luke is doing already in the NFL. He is such a great player. I just think this is a really special situation for me in terms of getting a chance to play left tackle this year, playing with my brother and building on what we’ve already done.

“A&M has been everything I hoped it would be when I first began dreaming of coming to school here. I’ve made great friendships, and I’ve loved the atmosphere here on game days. I have enjoyed it so much that I didn’t want to leave yet.”

That’s music to the ears of grateful A&M fans, coaches and teammates. And perhaps they should all send a sincere thank you letter to the former Amanda Hinkle, who indirectly played a role in first leading Jake’s older brother, Kevin, to Aggieland in 2005.

The Matthews family is a building an increasingly impressive legacy at A&M, and it all started with Kevin’s decision to walk-on instead of taking scholarship offers at Oklahoma State or UTEP so he could stay close to his girlfriend at the time, who is now his wife.



A FORTUNATE DOMINO EFFECT

Bruce Matthews first moved to Houston after he’d been drafted by the Oilers in the first round in 1983. He and his wife, Carrie, whom he met at a dining hall at USC, began raising a family that now includes seven children.

They planted some roots in the Houston area until Oilers owner Bud Adams moved the franchise from Texas to Tennessee following the 1996 season. Matthews played the final five seasons of his brilliant career in Tennessee and then moved back to the Houston area with his family on a full-time basis.

As Kevin grew and developed, he became a solid prep offensive lineman at Elkins High School in Missouri City. Entering his senior year, Kevin received several scholarship offers—the most attractive from Oklahoma State—but a couple of factors played into his decision to instead walk on at A&M.

First, he wasn’t intimidated by the walk-on process. His older cousin, Kyle, had walked on at USC in 2000, earned a scholarship as a safety and played on the Trojans’ 2003 national title team. He also knew his cousin, Clay III (now with the Green Bay Packers and a four-time Pro Bowler), was walking on for the Trojans at that same time.

If they could do it, Kevin figured, so could he. And there was something about A&M that continually attracted him. The first prospect letter he had ever received was from A&M, and even though the Aggies were not offering a scholarship, he believed Aggieland was the right place for him.

“I went up to Oklahoma State, but I didn’t like it,” said Kevin, who was signed by the Titans as an undrafted free agent following the 2010 NFL Draft and spent three seasons with Tennessee before signing with the Redskins last spring. “Besides, I had started dating a girl from Houston, and I didn’t want to get too far away from her. Her name was Amanda Hinkle. She (went) to Texas State, and I wanted to stay close to her.

"A&M football has always been the thing for me, especially as I was getting into high school. I’ve loved the place ever since Kevin was here, and it’s become part of our family tradition."

- Jake Matthews

“Anyway, I came back from Oklahoma State and the next day I called A&M, and I said I wanted to walk on. I knew it wouldn’t be easy to walk on, but a couple of weeks before I came here, my dad said, ‘What are your goals?’ I said, ‘I’m going to earn a scholarship within the first year.’ It wasn’t easy, but it was very rewarding when I got put on scholarship in the spring of 2006 (by Dennis Franchione’s coaching staff).”

Kevin, who was cut by the Redskins on Aug. 30 this year, served as a backup to All-American center Cody Wallace in ’06 and ’07. He quizzed Wallace regularly, learned as much as possible from the veteran and developed into a solid starter on a couple of mediocre A&M teams (2008-09) in Mike Sherman’s first two seasons as head coach in Aggieland.

Kevin, who at 26 is the second oldest of Bruce and Carrie’s seven kids, started the final 25 games of his A&M career, and his younger siblings thoroughly enjoyed their visits to Aggieland. Jake, who is five years younger than Kevin, says he first fell in love with A&M on those frequent visits to Kyle Field, as did Mike, who turned 19 last January.

“Kevin and I are close, even though there is a pretty big age gap between us,” Jake said. “All the siblings in my family get along really well, from my oldest brother, Steven, who didn’t play college football, all the way down to my youngest sister, Gwen, who will be 10 this November.

“I’ve been coming to A&M games since I was about in sixth grade. That is really one of the big reasons I felt so comfortable here. A&M football has always been the thing for me, especially as I was getting into high school. I’ve loved the place ever since Kevin was here, and it’s become part of our family tradition.”

Prior to Kevin’s decision to walk-on at A&M, USC was at the heart of the family’s collegiate football heritage. Bruce’s older brother, Clay Jr., played linebacker on USC’s 1974 national championship team and was an All-American as a senior in ’77. Bruce also had a glorious collegiate career with the Trojans, and two of Clay’s kids (Kyle and Clay III) enjoyed stellar careers at USC.

Jake considered USC, along with an array of other national powers such as Alabama, Oregon and Stanford, among others. But his heart was always at A&M, and he made an immediate impact as a true freshman for the Aggies in 2010.

Jake moved into the starting lineup when offensive tackle Brian Thomas moved inside after an injury to Evan Eike. Jake started the final seven games of the season at right tackle, helping the Aggies win their last six games of the regular season.

As a sophomore in 2011, he emerged as a cornerstone of an offensive front that allowed just nine sacks in 13 games and set school records for total yards, passing yards and scoring offense. Jake’s quick success and his overall satisfaction with A&M also made Mike’s decision an easy one.

Mike, ranked as the No. 2 center nationally by Rivals.com coming out of Elkins High, also considered USC, as well as a couple of other major schools. But the opportunity to follow the footsteps of two of his older brothers was one he couldn’t resist. Besides, he says he’d first fallen in love with Aggieland at an A&M-Texas game at Kyle Field, and he knew from that goose bump-inducing roar that he would one day love to play in maroon and white.

Even though four-year starter Patrick Lewis was firmly entrenched as the starting center last year, Mike earned immediate playing time in 2012, benefitting from the experiences of traveling with the team and playing in seven games.

“We knew (Lewis) would be leaving after the 2012 season, so I would much rather have Mike get game experience so that starting this year it wouldn’t be completely new to him,” A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin said of his decision not to redshirt Mike. “He now has an idea of what it takes to prepare and the pressures to play in the SEC. He was able to play in a lot of games last year, and he had to be ready to be the next man up if something happened to Patrick.

“Now, he (was) more comfortable entering this year. We made the decision it would be better to have a guy who is possibly a three-year starter at center with some experience as opposed to having a four-year guy with no experience. He was undersized last year, but he is (6-foot-3) and up to 280 or 285 now. I have been pleased with his progress.”

Likewise, Jake has also been pleased with how quickly his younger brother has taken ownership of the starting center position. In Sumlin’s fast-paced offensive philosophy, the center plays a vital role in making certain that the next snap is made as quickly as possible.

Lewis acknowledged last year the fast pace was stressful on him early in the year until he fully adjusted to Sumlin’s tempo. Mike Matthews is already moving and managing the offense in impressive fashion, Jake says.

“Mike is doing a real good job,” said Jake, who also served as the Aggies’ deep snapper last year. “I wondered if he was going to be able to pick up the offense because it is so fast. But he has done a real good job of getting a grasp on the offense and getting guys to follow him. The center is so important in setting the pace of this offense. Patrick Lewis did an incredible job last year, and he mentored Mike and groomed him for this year. I think Mike is fully prepared. There are a lot of things demanded of him, and he is doing a great job.”



LIVING UP TO THE FAMILY NAME

Sitting inside the Bright Football Complex, the normally reserved Jake Matthews laughs loudly and shakes his head playfully when he is asked about the best football player in his family.

It’s a very difficult question, as the Matthews name is synonymous with big-time football. The family tree is actually a goal post, and the lineage is listed in depth chart form.

The Baldwins act; Kennedys run for political office; Jacksons sing; and the Matthews play big-time football.

Jake and Mike Matthews’ grandfather was an All-American at Georgia Tech who made it to the NFL. Their uncle, Clay Jr., played 278 career games with the Browns and Falcons in 19 seasons and was a semifinalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012.

Legendary former CFL and NFL quarterback Warren Moon said this about their father on the day he retired in 2001: “Bruce was the most talented, intelligent and competitive lineman I played with in my 20 years of professional football. There may have been more physical players or intelligent players or competitive players, but no one had them all wrapped up into one package like Bruce.”

"A&M is a very special place...I am very proud three of my sons have been to A&M and I’m proud to wear Aggie gear when I go to games. A&M is part of the family now."

- Bruce Matthews

Jake’s and Mike’s cousin, Clay III, was an All-Pro for the Packers in 2010 and ’12 and was the NFC Defensive Player of the Year in 2010. Another cousin, Casey, was first-team All-Pac-10 with Oregon in 2010 and recorded 48 tackles last year with the Philadelphia Eagles.

“I’d have to say I’m the best of all of them,” Jake said with a lighthearted laugh. “No, in all seriousness, I have to go with my dad. There have been so many great ones in my family. But in my mind, my dad is the greatest offensive lineman to ever play the game. He was such a great player. Growing up, I always enjoyed learning the game from him. Getting to see him play at the highest level was a great thing for me.

“But it is very special to be part of this family. My dad and my uncle were able to do so many things in the NFL. If I could possibly accomplish half as much as either my dad or uncle, it would be a dream come true. And my cousins have done great things, too. My youngest brother, Luke, who is 13, is probably going to be the biggest one out of all of us. You can tell he is getting to the age where he is all about football. He just senses it. With our family, it’s just in our blood, and it is something that we all have in common.”

It’s more than merely genetics, Bruce says. The Matthews men seem to possess a sixth sense for the game.

“Football has served as a bond for us because all of our minds are kind of wired the same way,” Bruce said. “It’s one thing to talk about offensive line schemes and techniques, but when you can also visualize it in your mind and feel it, it gives you a big advantage. Your average fan out there probably wouldn’t understand it. It’s not just Xs and Os to us; there is actually a feeling to it. I have felt honored to have been involved with all the boys. It’s a pleasure to watch them grow, mature and play.”

This season could be especially pleasurable, as Bruce and Carrie are able to watch two of their sons play on the same field for the first time since Jake’s senior year at Elkins, when Mike also started at center for the Knights. Because of Bruce’s NFL coaching responsibilities, he will not see a game in person until this weekend's Alabama game, when the Titans are also in the Lone Star State to face the Texans on Sept. 15 in Houston.

He is looking forward to that game, although he admits having two sons on the same field at the same time is much more difficult than most fans might understand.

“It’s very special to watch them on the same team,” Bruce said. “When I watched the spring game, I was reminded how difficult it is to watch them both in high school. I like to focus in on whoever is playing that particular game. When you have two boys in the game, it makes it hard. I was like, ‘Oh gosh, who do I choose to watch on this play?’ I finally figured out that I will focus on Jake because he is a senior. If they show a replay, I will watch Mikey. But it really is cool to see them out there and enjoying it as much as they are. My wife and I are very proud of them both, as well as all of our kids.

“There’s no question I’m still a huge SC fan, and there is no wavering in my SC loyalty. But A&M is a very special place. The relationship the A&M players have with the fans, and how they are really part of the traditions makes A&M pretty unique. Having lived in Houston for the better part of the last 30 years, I’ve been exposed to the power of the Aggie network and how passionate the A&M fans are. I am very proud three of my sons have been to A&M and I’m proud to wear Aggie gear when I go to games. A&M is part of the family now.”

And the domino effect continues to pay huge dividends. Or in the case of the Matthews family, perhaps it should be referred to as the “pancake effect.” 



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