Coming out of high school, Jordan Matthews said his opportunities to play college football were few.
“Everybody always asks me, ‘Oh man, why did you go to Vanderbilt?’” Matthews said. “It was the only option. I couldn’t go anywhere else.”
So with a year left of eligibility, Matthews isn’t ready to bail on the school that took a chance on him.
Sunday, with his parents Brenda and Roderick sitting next to him, the All-Southeastern Conference wide receiver announced he would at Vanderbilt for his senior season rather than leave early for the NFL draft.
“Me and my family prayed on it and when we looked at all the pros and cons it was a no-brainer,” Matthews said. “This is the best opportunity that anybody can have. Like I always tell people I have the opportunity every week to compete against the smartest and brightest people in the whole country Monday through Friday. I get to compete against the best athletes on Saturday.”
Matthews led the SEC with a school-record 1,323 receiving yards – fifth-most in conference history – and caught 94 passes in 2012. The receptions rank second all-time at Vanderbilt to Keith Edwards, who caught an SEC-best 97 in 1983.
Matthews, a 6-foot-3, 205 pounder, also set a school-record seven games with 100 or more receiving yards and scored eight touchdowns in helping the Commodores (9-4) to their first nine-win season since 1915.
“This is the biggest recruit that we’re signing this year, getting this guy to come back,” coach James Franklin said. “I don’t think there is any question that Jordan was ready to make this move [to the NFL] physically and mentally. … He made a really mature decision. He wants to continue his opportunity, refine his craft, have an opportunity to earn his degree and then take his talents to the next level."
Finishing his degree was important to Matthews, who plans to graduate next December, before he trains for the 2014 draft.
“Education is very important to the family as a whole,” Brenda Matthews said. “Not necessarily at Jordan’s level but at our level and at our parents’ level also. … So we’re extremely proud that he made that final decision. The other decision would have been less pleasing.”
In three seasons, he has totaled 150 receptions for 2,282 yards and 17 touchdowns. He needs 812 yards and 87 catches to top the SEC’s all-time charts. He also needs just five touchdowns to eclipse Dan Stricker (21 from 1999-02) for the most by a Vanderbilt receiver.
But Matthews, a native of Madison, Ala., says the statistics and records don’t concern him. He wants to lead Vanderbilt to its first SEC championship.
“I know for a fact I have the guys around me that can take this school to an SEC championship next year,” Matthews said. “That is the main reason why I’m staying and I’m going to devote all my time to making sure Vanderbilt is on the podium in Georgia by season’s end next year.”
With Matthews, the Commodores will have one of the best receiver duos in the SEC. Chris Boyd, a rising junior almost identical in height and weight with Matthews, had 50 receptions for 774 yards and five touchdowns this season,
The person throwing Matthews and Boyd the ball will be different. Austyn Carta-Samuels and Patton Robinette are the top two candidates to replace Jordan Rodgers when spring practice commences in March. Carta-Samuels, a rising senior and transfer from Wyoming, made one start and played in six games this season, passing for just 208 yards and one touchdown. Robinette, a Maryville native, redshirted his freshman year.
“Relationships are built. They don’t just happen,” Matthews said. “We are going to be throwing every single day to the point we get the relationship together the same way me and Jordan had it. So I don’t think we’re going to miss a beat at all.”