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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Clay Matthews..Walk-on to Draft Day

by Karen Guregian, Boston Herald

Southern California linebacker Clay Matthews has a special place in his heart for the Cleveland Browns. Being drafted by the team his father played with for six seasons would suit him just fine.

Dad also wouldn’t complain.

But there’s another scenario that would put a smile on the face of a proud papa. Clay Matthews Sr. surely wouldn’t mind if his kid got picked up by the man who coached him in Cleveland during the early ’90s -Bill Belichick The elder Matthews, also a linebacker and four-time Pro Bowler, spent two years under Belichick in Cleveland before finishing his career in Atlanta.

“A lot of what he did defensively, I can just remember how although we didn’t do a variety of things, the things we did, we were well schooled in,” Matthews said of Belichick when reached by phone at his West Coast home. “You could pretty much expect that what was stressed in Day One would be stressed in Day 100 and Day 200. They were time-proven things that worked and gave you an opportunity to win. And if I’m looking for a system for my son, and a coach, somebody who’s going to put him in a position to be successful . . . I know with (Belichick) he’s going to be put in a position where he can succeed.”

When young Clay had his turn at the podium during the combine in Indianapolis, he politely told the media he really didn’t have any recollection of either his father playing or Belichick. He was simply too young to grasp what was happening in front of him.

“I was too young to really understand or appreciate what my father was doing at the time,” the younger Matthews said. “I think I was more interested in what food I was going to get at the game rather than watching him.”

Before Belichick’s arrival, Matthews’ Browns team was not noted for its defense. Opposing offenses had their way with the Browns, but that changed quickly.

“I think before he got there, as I recall, in 1991, I think we set a record for the most points given up in a season. I think he came in, in ’92 and ’93. And we went something like 3 games without giving up a touchdown,” Matthews Sr. said. “He did some good things in a short amount of time, and I was just impressed how everything was professionally handled. Everything from the X’s and O’s, to analyzing new talent, looking for new talent. Everything was thought out and planned out. And consequently, the team got better.”

His son has been linked with the Patriots [team stats] in some mock drafts, thanks to his ability as well as his bloodlines. His father was a Pro Bowler, his uncle Bruce Matthews was a Hall of Fame offensive lineman and his grandfather, also named Clay, played for San Francisco in the 1950s.

Belichick, also a product of a football family, appreciates players who grew up around the culture of football. He also has an eye out for kids like Matthews who, unlike many of USC’s other can’t-miss prospects at the combine, made Pete Carroll’s team as a walk-on. He went from a scrawny 166-pound redshirt freshman to a 6-foot-3, 246-pound potential first-round pick.

Matthews first made his mark on special teams before blossoming as a senior with a breakout season. The elder Matthews thought a smaller school might be a better fit for his son, but the kid was determined to be a Trojan.

“They recruited all these blue-chip players, but I don’t think he ever wavered from Day One, that he thought he could play there,” said papa Matthews, who also went to USC. “This was really his vision.”

His son played in the elephant role in USC’s 4-3 defense, a stand-up defensive end who rushed the quarterback. His father believes his son, who wears his long blond hair in a ponytail like dad used to, could easily transition into the Pats’ 3-4.

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