Jordan Matthews is Jerry Rice’s second cousin but the Vanderbilt freshman wants to carve out his own career at that position without leaning on his legendary relative for advice.
“Jerry is too busy on the PGA tour trying to do the whole golf thing,” Matthews said. “If I keep getting better and get the chance to play at the next level I might talk with him.”
Matthews is part of an exciting group of freshmen receivers who are injecting new life into Vanderbilt’s receiving corps. Last season, Vanderbilt completed 170 passes for 1,756 yards -- both of which ranked 11th in the Southeastern Conference.
Physically, Matthews, at 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, has good size but an impressive wingspan provides added length. His has Velcro hands, rarely dropping a ball without getting drilled by a defender. In fall practice he consistently uses his long arms to snatch up balls that appear out of reach. His ability to elevate makes him an ample threat on fade routes, as well.
“I was born with the gift of height so I just try and box out DBs and have them behind me,” Matthews explained. “When there is a jump ball I just rise up and get it.”
To his coaches, Matthews’ attitude might be his greatest asset. He doesn’t take reps off during any drill. Regardless of whether he makes a catch with his fingertips, body fully extended, or if a defensive back breaks the pass up with a massive hit, Matthews has an identical reaction. He simply jumps to his feet and runs back to the huddle.
“If you make a catch there is no reason to sit around thinking about that catch, you need to go ahead and make another one,” Matthews said. “The offense needs you to make another play. So it is all business with me.”
Receivers coach Charlie Fisher has taken note of Matthews’ on-field demeanor. He noted that attitude is a large part of Matthews’ upside. The freshman has begun to remind Fisher of a former Commodore wideout.
“He likes to play,” said Fisher. “In many ways he’s a lot like how George Smith was for us a few years ago. They have the same type of personality.”
Fisher said that he has not yet determined the starting receivers. The competition at the position suggests that several candidates will get playing time on Saturdays this season.
Both Matthews, consistent with his humble personality, and Fisher recognize that despite freshmen highlights during fall practice, young players have mistakes and work ahead of them.
“Everybody wants to get on the field and we all think we have the talents to contribute, but we’re still young so we’re still in the learning stage, “Matthews said. “We’re not different from any other freshmen in the country, we are trying to learn every day and push the guys in front of us.”
As a senior at Madison Academy in Madison, Ala. last fall, Matthews caught 61 catches for 1,061 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also had four touchdowns on returns.
“Everybody’s got to remember that he’s just a freshman,” Fisher explained. “He’s doing a really good job, he’s a high energy guy and it’s important too him. He wants to achieve.”
Head coach Robbie Caldwell is a bit more straightforward about what he expects out of Jordan Matthews this season. He sees him making plays on Saturday.
“[I’d] be shocked if he doesn’t play, be disappointed if he doesn’t play,” Caldwell stated. “So that tells you how I feel about him.”
• Thursday’s practice saw more injuries for the Commodores. Junior tight end Austin Monahan went down in pain while running, gripping his right knee, during 11-on-11 drills. The very next play ended with sophomore running back Zac Stacy on the ground. Stacy hurt his left knee taking a hit.
The initial diagnosis on each was a sprained knee. Both players were scheduled for MRIs Thursday evening. Being helped off the field, Stacy was putting a little weight on the hurt leg. Monahan was not.
The injury to Stacy leaves the Commodores with an exoskeleton of running backs; Wesley Tate is out recovering from a foot injury and Kennard Reeves has a mild hamstring ailment. Warren Norman is the only healthy scholarship rusher.
“Hopefully they’ll [Stacy and Monahan] be back in a week or so,” Caldwell said. “If we can we’ll move [junior] Ryan van Rensburg over there and we might have a freshman out here somewhere that can do it and has done it. It’s just one of those things, you hate it but we ain’t gonna let it get us down.
“We’re in survival mode now."
• Several Commodore players were absent from practice finishing up summer classes, which culminated with exams, papers, and presentations this week. Caldwell estimated the number missing at seven. He said he’ll be glad to have full attention and more bodies in practice, but Caldwell stressed the importance of academics.
• Junior quarterback Larry Smith has shown increased accuracy in live drills this week. Caldwell restated that he hasn’t determined a No. 1 quarterback yet but said he is pleased with Smith’s improvement.