Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Q&A: Clay Matthews, Jr., USC

Linebacker Clay Matthews, Jr. interviewed on the All Access Radio's Football Friday Show with Ralph Mancini, Daniel Mogollon and Rodney Towe on March 20, 2009

Being the guy some people view as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, when you hear the term “hybrid”, what comes to mind?

Versatility. I’ve always played a multitude of positions and for me, personally, playing 3-4/4-3 or playing an outside linebacker or a rush, defensive end, or standup linebacker, however you want to look at it. I'm just someone that can bring more to the table than your one dimensional, traditional player, so I see myself filling a lot of roles.

Conversely, when you hear the term “tweener” thrown around, what goes through your mind?

It depends on how you take that, whether it's a good or bad thing. Certain people call Dwight Freeney a tweener. Obviously, he's a little smaller than your typical defensive end, but he has a lot of speed and a great motor. I think it really works to my advantage, regardless of what position they want to play me at.

I guess a lot of people by now know your story; you came to USC as a walk-on. You had to bite and scratch to become a starter in your senior year. My question to you is, where did you get that competitive nature from? Is it something that your dad instilled in you? Was your father who was an NFL Pro for 19 years? Was your father extremely hard on you growing up as a kid?

I think it was something ingrained in me since day one. I’ve always been out to prove that I’m a battler in anything, in any facet of life. I’m always out to prove that I deserve to be there, and that I deserve respect. It's something I’ve had to do since day one. My dad has never been too hard on me, but he has been hard enough. He was my coach in high school, but he’s not one of those coaches who puts his son in because he’s his son; he’s the guy who benched me in my junior year and didn’t start me in my junior year. It’s just something I developed all of my life and obviously without him and my whole family, and just my background experience in football, I wouldn’t be able to shine today. He’s definitely helped with my attitude, intuitiveness and playing with a chip on my shoulder.

Clay, why did you choose USC? Obviously you have family ties there, but did you get any other scholarship offers from any other schools?

To be honest, I didn’t have any other offers coming out of high school. I didn’t play my junior year and although I was a starter in my senior year. I came on strong, but it was a little late in the recruiting process. I was still under-sized, needed to get faster, stronger and bigger...the whole nine yards. To be honest, I agree, there was a rich family history there at USC, it was close to home, only 45 minutes away. Obviously, what Coach Carroll has been doing is building his program in education. I didn’t know if this was going to be the career path I would take. Academics are very important to me and I think overall, USC was a great fit for me—it’s not your typical career, but it made me who I am today and I’m very fortunate.

Clay, when your dad benched you that junior year, did you let him know, “This may lead to you paying for my tuition rather than me getting a scholarship”?

Not so much that he benched me, because there was someone better than me, and obviously the best player would get the chance to start. I didn’t deserve it (starting), and in my senior year I did. I think we both didn’t know what the future would be for me in football. He even asked me when I decided to go to SC if I wanted to choose a small school in order to be able to make an impact right away. I was very content on going to SC, and hopefully earning a scholarship, getting on a special teams and becoming a demon on those, but it turned out to be so much more than either of us thought could potentially happen. It’s just something you just keep sticking with and here I am, in a great position.

Being a kid that had that decision to make, you step on the USC campus and you've got Keith Rivers, Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing, all these big names 4/5 star recruits. Do you think your background helped you a lot, in terms of you being a walk-on, you weren’t intimidated and you thought, “I could still play with these guys and if I work hard enough, I could reach that level”?

The only thing my background helped with was getting into the school and just being a walk-on, getting looked at. Everything else I had to earn. I’ve been working myself up into the ranks. And you're right, going to USC and playing against 5-star recruits like Keith, Rey and Cushing, it’s just part of the business. I knew going there, I was going to have to work that much harder than other players to be in the position that I am today. I’m very fortunate to have played with them. It does make us the players we are today, the fact that we had to compete against one other day in and day out. We are really fortunate for that experience. That is why we are in such a great position. I knew I would have to come every day and work my tail off, and that’s what I did.

As we sit here 36 days from the Draft, you're being spoken of as a guy who can go in the first round, with your more celebrated teammates Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing. How does that make you feel, in terms of the work you’ve done to get to this point?

That was a testament to the hard work that I’ve put in. I’m very appreciative of who I am and the fact that it’s done, it’s been noticed and scouts and coaches understand what type of player I really am. To be able to talk with Cushing and Rey, it does mean a great deal to me. Just to be able to share experiences with them and to be as highly regarded as all the players on the team and be in this situation makes me feel very fortunate and blessed.

Your teammate Brian Cushing was quoted as saying his goal is becoming mentally a better player each and every day. Can you talk about that? Can you talk about the mental preparation that goes into it for you when it comes to an opponent?

It takes a great deal of mental toughness to be in the position where we are right now. It’s only going to get more difficult. I think fortunately for me everyone knows my story now, that I had to work my way up. And that alone takes mental toughness. It’s been a grind going to the senior ball; it’s been a grind going to Indianapolis, and I can honestly say it really hasn’t been easy for me. I’ve been working hard at USC for five years, but it can get much harder. I’m just loving this opportunity and just having a blast with it, and taking it day by day. You know, it’s funny, my brother mentioned before this last season how neat it would be if I was to get drafted, even in the seventh round. Now, here we are talking about first round. It's something that we all dream about, and it requires a great deal of mental toughness and will only get tougher from here on out.

Talk about the influence Pete Carroll and your linebacker coach, Ken Norton, Jr., had on you during your collegiate career at USC.

They had a great influence, obviously just being the people they are. Starting with Coach Carroll and his whole program, you really have to buy into it. Everyone has done a great job and that’s why it’s been so successful. A big part of the program is competing, day in and day out, coming in and working together, and at the same time having a little fight here and there, getting better, and working toward our goal. That’s why we’ve been so fortunate to be Rose Bowl Champions and National Champions—we’ve just been in the spotlight because of this program. Carroll is really a player’s coach, being a coach in the NFL and understanding how it works is more than just coaching; he’s your friend on the side as well. It makes it a lot easier to have a personal relationship. I can say the same for Coach Norton, he’s a player’s coach as well. He’s played in a league, and because he was so successful, he was able to relate it to us and all the linebackers. I think that’s why we’ve had so much success with him at the helm with our linebacker class. It’s really a testament to the coaches and the work we’ve put in. They have both done a good job and all the coaches have done a great job.

Do you had any private workouts with specific NFL teams coming up?

I have a few coming up with the Washington Redskins, Miami Dolphins, and I have my Pro Date on April 1st . After that, I have Atlanta coming up on the 4th, and I’m flying out to Cleveland a little later that month, I’m sure it’s going to be more stressful as time goes on. Hopefully after the Draft, I can put my feet up.

Time for three-and-out…first down: It's Saturday night—what is Clay Matthews doing?

Clay Matthews usually stays in and watches a movie, either by himself or with a friend. I’m a big movie buff. I love being my own Siskel & Ebert or (Richard) Roeper.

Second down: Since you are such a movie buff, what is your favorite movie of all time?

Of all time…that’s hard to say, there are some great ones out there. I really like Shawshank Redemption…Forrest Gump is so easy to watch. Those are those classic movies that you can pick up at any point and enjoy. Those are probably my top two favorite movies.

Alright Clay, I was going to ask you who has better hair, you or Rey Maualuga, but I am going to defer from the chat-room for third down. Someone from the chat-room wanted to know how many times do Snoop or Will Ferrell show up at USC practice?

Well, I think your first question is no-brainer…having better hair myself. (Laughs) We do have celebrities come by a lot during practice, obviously being at USC in the middle of Los Angeles with no professional football team. We like to consider ourselves America’s team. We have celebrities coming through here and there. Snoop came by two times during my tenure there and Will Ferrell, he somehow makes a guest appearance usually twice a year. It’s real great, because it gets our mind off the whole business aspect of sports. We can just have a good time and really enjoy ourselves, but at the same time know what’s at stake. That’s what we love about SC, the fact that we can mix fun with business and be successful at doing it.

Photo Credit: Aggie Skirball, John Pyle (USC)