Clay Matthews Becomes a First-Round Name

Jabber HeadSenior Analyst IFebruary 26, 2009

It’s been quite a journey for Clay Matthews III. Despite his famous bloodline, he’s never been given a free football pass. His father and uncle are captured forever in the history of the school he attends, as both men are members of the USC Athletic Hall of Fame.

His uncle, Bruce, also appears in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as a 14-time Pro Bowl selection in a spectacular 19 year career. And after his father, Clay II, completed his time at Southern California, he also went on to appear in four Pro Bowls of his own.

It’s a lineage of Trojans and success, as the elders paved a trail for the family’s youth to follow.

In 2004, trotting into the same stadium where his family first became household names, the newest Matthews did so without a scholarship, appearing as a walk-on. At this storied NFL football factory, a name has never made a player, but plenty of players were granted the opportunity to make a name.

He selected a big school, with an even bigger program, and entered with enormous shoes to fill.

Four years later, he has established that name. Through hard work and dedication, “Matthews” is no longer a name solely reflective of football’s past, quickly becoming a popular name for football’s future.

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No Trojan has benefited more from the 2008 season than this “elephant” on the outside, and that includes Mark Sanchez.

So much is made of the line formed for quarterbacks and running backs at USC, but often overlooked is the number of linebackers and the shortage of opportunities to get on the field. In Matthews’ first year, the Trojans won a national championship, and among their linebackers were Lofa Tatupu, Matt Grootegoed, and Dallas Sartz.

The group was replaced through the years with Keith Rivers, Thomas Williams, Brian Cushing, Kaluka Maiva, and Rey Maualuga. Five of the eight were drafted by the NFL, with the remainder appearing as prospects in this year’s class, and two projected in the first round.

And thanks to an impressive senior season, Matthews can make it three.

With the linebacking corps in tact for 2008, Pete Carroll’s staff worked Matthews onto the field, using him as a hybrid. He benefited greatly from his production in two highly publicized early season games, first at Virginia, and then Ohio State.

And with the motor still running, he was a constant disruption in opposing backfields, finishing the season with 4.5 sacks and nine tackles for losses. His name was finally out there, but it’s the occurrences after the scheduled games were complete that allowed that final push.

Matthews made his first impression with NFL scouts at the Senior Bowl. Originally walking in the shadow of Maualuga and Cushing, he left Mobile Alabama sharing the same light. The spotlight intensified at the NFL Scout combine in Indianapolis, where he finished among the top performers at his position.

His name is now being tossed around in discussions involving potential first round picks. Not bad for a former walk-on, huh?

His story isn’t much different than his former teammate, Lofa Tatupu, who also came from an NFL bloodline, but played his freshman season as an unknown in Maine, before transferring to USC. Tatupu never reached that first round, likely because he appeared on the scout’s radar too late.

In two months, Matthews will learn if he’s also penalized for his tardiness or rewarded for his closing performance. With the USC Pro-Day still to come, I believe Matthews will be off the board before April’s opening round comes to an end. And if not, someone will receive a gift in the second.

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