Matthews had a standout senior season at Madison Academy in Alabama, grabbing 61 catches for 1,061 yards and 13 touchdowns. Despite his success, Matthews received no scholarship offers. He began looking at programs where he believed he could play as a walk-on. Then, finally, one school came calling, and the rest, as they say, is history.
“I think that (competitive) edge was already with me coming out of high school,” Matthews explained. “I think that was the point where that chip really got on my shoulder because coming out of high school I had no offers. It wasn’t like I was being looked over by some teams; I wasn’t wanted essentially by anybody. Somebody de-committed and I got the offer from Vanderbilt and was able to go.
“I was kind of stuck in no man’s land when it came to recruiting. I had a bunch of big schools that liked me, but no one had ever gone Division I from my high school, so they were kind of hesitant to offer. Then the smaller schools would come and see like Auburn, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Alabama and they thought that they wouldn’t be able to get me, so they never offered. I kind of got stuck in the middle, but I ended up where I needed to be.”
Four years after struggling to land a scholarship offer, Matthews left Vanderbilt as not only the top receiver in school history, but also as the most prolific pass catcher in SEC history, catching 262 passes for 3,759 yards. Those numbers are no joke, especially considering that the SEC is known historically for being the best defensive conference in the nation.
According to Matthews, the grind of playing in the SEC has definitely benefitted him, but he knows that the competition level is about to jump exponentially.
“I definitely think (playing in the SEC) can equip you in some ways because you’re playing against the strongest and the best guys in the country day in and day out at practice and then going out on Saturday and playing guys like that too,” Matthews said. “It can definitely help, but the NFL is a totally different level. There are plenty of SEC receivers who came to the league, and didn’t do as well as in college, so if anything, I’ve got to go out and practice against these guys and have success so I can really get ready for the games.”
Unfortunately for Matthews, his collegiate statistics are a thing of the past. The 6-foot-3 wide receiver will once again be starting from scratch as he looks to make a name for himself in the NFL. That transition will surely come with its fair share of challenges, but Matthews believes the Eagles are the perfect team to help him in his journey.
“In college, you’ve got to deal with classes and all of that stuff, and now when I wake up I’m a football player and when I go to sleep I’m a football player,” said Matthews. “Every second of the day, I’m trying to get better at being an Eagle ... Coach (Chip) Kelly has made a great program for the rookies, and we’re able to come in and learn. The veterans are great, and we’re trying to watch them and get as much advice as possible, and then go out and practice hard.”
One of the most intriguing parts of watching Matthews play in the Eagles’ offense is seeing where he will line up on the field. Kelly has already stated that Matthews will be used primarily in the slot, but the Vanderbilt product’s versatility makes him a moveable chess piece in the offense, an exciting thought for Matthews and Eagles fans alike.
“I feel like I can run anything in the playbook,” said Matthews. “It’s just going out there and making sure I’m doing the right thing and doing it to the best of my ability. I’m still learning. I’m an empty vessel. I’m trying to go in and learn as much as possible.”