Modest Jordan Matthews worked his way through an interview, deflecting individual attention as usual.
Named to two All-Southeastern Conference first teams in as many days, the Vanderbilt wide receiver called the honors a “team award” and instead wanted to focus on the Commodores’ upcoming game with North Carolina State in the Franklin Mortgage Music City Bowl on New Year’s Eve.
Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop had other plans.
He wanted to brag about the 6-foot-3, 205-pounder who broke the school’s single-season receiving record this year. So Shoop stepped in, put his arm around Matthews and touted the junior’s talents.
“I’m throwing in my two cents,” Shoop declared after Wednesday’s practice. “I want it on the record if there is a better receiver in the country he ain’t in college football. He is in the NFL somewhere. It is a crime if this guy isn’t on every first-team All-American. He better come back for his senior year. We’ll win the national ... we’ll win it all with him.”
Thinking months down the road is a challenge for Matthews, who possesses the same tunnel vision as his short-term, goal-oriented head coach, James Franklin.
But Matthews will have a tough decision to make after the season. His NFL Draft stock has skyrocketed during a junior campaign in which he has been the most consistent and most powerful target for quarterback Jordan Rodgers.
Matthews, a native of Madison, Ala., has piled up more receiving yards in a season than any Vanderbilt receiver with 1,262. And he still has one game left.
It is not out of the realm of possibility that he ties or breaks the single-season record for most catches too. He has 87 right now for second all-time – just 10 behind leader Keith Edwards (1983).
In seven games this year, Matthews has accumulated more than 100 receiving yards. Seven times, he has snagged eight receptions or more, including a career-best 10 twice.
Though his name hasn’t graced the early mock draft boards, with his height, hands and speed, Matthews could be a sleeper pick. Or he could return for his senior year and increase his draft stock, though he’ll have to mesh with a new quarterback as Rodgers will be gone.
“You can always benefit from college,” said Matthews, who has a team-high seven receiving touchdowns this season. “Of course [from] the education here, and obviously just spending more time with my teammates and my family.”
But Matthews, not surprisingly, turned down the opportunity to say if he would be back next season.
“I’m only focused on the game right now,” Matthews said. “We’ll get into that stuff later. I’m focused on N.C. State.”
Six weeks ago, Franklin noted that Matthews is an amazing talent even though he hasn’t perfected the little things such as route running or creating separation.
Since then, Franklin has witnessed growth and maturation. Still, Vanderbilt’s second-year coach drools at the idea of having another offseason to work with Matthews, another year for him to get stronger and to develop into an unstoppable force.
“He is one of the better receivers in the country but I do believe there is a lot of area still for improvement,” Franklin said. “I really do believe that, which is scary, which is scary in a lot of ways. What he does is he has elite ball skills and he has a really good body. He has a real good understanding of how to use his body and things like that. He has unbelievable confidence. He believes he is the best wide receiver in the country. I think that is a powerful thing – believing in yourself.”
Even if he prefers to keep it to himself.