And let's be honest, it’s understandable. One look at Matthews’ physique, after reading all the “skinny kid” stories, is enough.
But should we suspect Clay Matthews? Is he guilty by association? Of course not. There are, however, a lot of similarities in their stories and how they transformed themselves from scrawny kids to muscle-bound NFL warriors.
Brian Cushing was a multi-sport athlete in high school who decided to focus on football after his freshman year. He hit the weight room hard and came back a much bigger player his sophomore year.
The change was so dramatic there were many whispers of steroid use from NJ high school football observers. Yet speak to anyone close to him, and they would emphatically defend him as an honest and incredibly self-motivated kid that would never cheat.
He accomplished the feat by hard work in the weight room. His development continued at USC, and those closest to Cushing came out publicly to defend him. Videos of Cushing working out were published on the Internet .
His high school coach and personal trainer stood by him and still does, even after the recent developments. This from an article written by Tara Sullivan of The Bergen Record , a local NJ newspaper:
“'This is being handled by his agent and his attorney so I’m not at liberty to speak about it, but I will say this, I support Brian Cushing a hundred percent,' said Fred Stengel, Cushing’s coach at Bergen Catholic High School."
“'I talked to him [Friday] night and people are going to believe what they believe, but I’m behind closed doors with him and on my family, I will go to the death and say he doesn’t take steroids,' says Joe DeFranco, who began training Cushing when he was a junior in high school, guided him through preparation for the NFL combine and continues to work with Cushing in the NFL’s off-season.”
In a public statement, Cushing has explained his version of the situation: “I was substance-tested randomly by the NFL during the 2009 season. The results of those tests indicated the presence of a non-steroidal banned substance.”
That substance is believed to be a single elevated hormone level, which led Cushing’s camp to file an appeal.
In her article, Sullivan goes on to write, “As quickly as Cushing would like to move forward, it won’t be easy. This is his reality now, a résumé permanently stained by a failed test. There will be no simple way of washing away the doubt, no way for him to silence the notion he cheated himself and the game. For those who believed all along he was juicing, they now have proof; for those who remain solidly in Cushing’s corner, there is the grim acceptance of loss in the court of public opinion.”
Cushing should learn from the examples of Andy Pettite and Alex Rodriguez: come clean, tell everyone what you took, why you took it, and how many times you took it. Just tell it all. Fans will forgive and forget—it’s already happened in NY for those two players.
But What about Clay Matthews?
He has a similar back story. We’ve all read about his physical transformation. In high school, his own father (also his coach) wouldn’t start him as a junior. Even after a growth spurt, hitting the weight room and having a good senior year, major colleges weren’t interested.
His father tried to convince him to go to a small school where he could play, but Clay insisted on going to USC and trying out as a walk-on. Pete Carrol kept him on mainly out of respect to his USC-alumni father and brother.
“I thought it was intriguing,” USC coach Pete Carroll says of Matthews’s arrival. “He had that big family background here. So I thought, ‘OK, is there some magic in here somehow?’ But I didn’t see it. He just looked like a nice, hardworking kid who was undersized, just not physically able to match up.”
His teammate, Rey Maualuga, says of him, “I just remember how little he was. But he was always in the weight room three times more than anybody else.” Indeed, as Matthews was named USC’s top weightlifter on the team three times.
Against all logic, Matthews was confident he could succeed at USC, home of five-star prospects and blue-chip players.
“I knew if I came to USC and they gave me a shot, that I could play”, says Matthews. “I also knew if I was going to hang with these guys, I’d have to work really hard and be really persistent. I just kept working and working and getting bigger and faster and better. I knew I was capable of playing with the best athletes in the nation. Maybe I was crazy to have that mindset, but obviously that’s better than saying you can’t.”
So the underlying theme we’ve been told is the same: Success is achieved by honest hard work, desire, self-motivation, and a will to succeed.
Yet the whispers persisted: that type of physical transformation is not possible by normal means . Throw in the false reports of a failed drug test at the NFL Combine for both Cushing and Matthews, and a lot of assumptions can easily be made.
But of course, assumptions mean nothing. While many parallels can be drawn between the Cushing and Matthews success stories, and it’s fair to say they are more alike than different, we simply cannot and should not extrapolate into the unknown. Matthews got to where he is physically by outworking everyone in the weight room; I’ll stick with that belief until proven otherwise.
Jersey Al Bracco is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.
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