Hundreds of San Diego Chargers fans gathered outside a local Albertson's store today, some as early as 11:30 a.m., to catch a glimpse of rookie running back Ryan Mathews, during a meet-and-greet promoting the new Pepsi MAX Rookie Cans.
The Pepsi MAX Rookie can series is part of the Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Week/Year program, which gives football fans the opportunity to vote each week and at the end of the season for the best rookie in the league.
During today's meet-and-greet, I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Mathews. When I asked Ryan how he felt when he heard his name called during the NFL Draft as the 12th pick overall, he stated:
“It was unbelievable; my dreams have all come true. I looked up to (LaDainian Tomlinson), and to be able to come into this situation where he started off his career is a great opportunity for me and a blessing.”
I then asked him what it is like playing at the professional level versus his prior experience at Fresno State University.
“The defensive linemen are a lot bigger and faster, but it's fun, I’m really enjoying it, and honestly it’s the most fun I have been having.”
San Diego Chargers rookie wide receiver Seyi Ajirotutu and Mathews had been teammates while playing at Fresno State University. They have developed a friendship that has carried into this season, as they once again find themselves teammates.
“It’s awesome. I’m happy for him. He’s working real hard to get where he is; he’s finally getting some looks. It’s great to have him by my side; it kinda makes me feel like I am back at home again.”
Tutu was cut after the preseason, and with the Chargers wide receiver corps depleted by injuries, Ajirotutu found himself alongside Mathews in the starting lineup.
I asked the Chargers star running back how he felt about his friend's break-out performance in Houston, and he had this to say: “He’s been working really hard to get where he is, and I am really happy for him.”
Four weeks into the season, Mathews scored his first career NFL touchdown, during a 41-10 blow-out at home against the Arizona Cardinals.
I asked him how he felt following that touchdown and he said, “I didn’t know what to do; I thought I might have stepped out. I was looking for the ref, and as soon as he put his hands up, I had so many mixed emotions and feelings going through my body, you are always gonna remember that first one. It feels good; as good as gets.”
The Week 8 game against the Tennessee Titans showcased a breakout performance by the Chargers trio of running backs or “running back by committee,” as dubbed by Chargers radio announcers Josh Lewin and Hank Bauer.
The “trio” racked up a season-high 156 rushing yards en route to defeating the Titans 33-25.
When I asked Mathews about the “running back by committee” he gave me this insight. “It’s good; it gives the defense a look at three different styles of running backs.
"You’ve got Tolbert; he’s big and heavy, and is gonna run through people. Sproles, he’s a little quicker, a little faster on edge, and then you have me.
"I think I read the holes, my vision is my strong point. We make the defense work harder; we’re pretty much a three-headed dragon.”
In addition to signing autographs for eager fans, Mathews took some time to socialize with Marines from Marine Corps Logistics First Battalion stationed out of Camp Pendelton.
The Marines will be receiving Thanksgiving meals from Operation Home Front, who has partnered with Albertsons this holiday season.
In ending my time with Ryan, I asked him if he believes the San Diego Chargers are still Super Bowl contenders. His answer was simple and to the point “Oh yeah. definitely!”
Interview conducted by Jay Brown and transcribed by Allison Sawyer