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Friday, February 1, 2013
Coaches' take: Tray Matthews

By David Ching

ATHENS, Ga. -- Todd Grantham has already pegged where Tray Matthews belongs in Georgia’s defensive scheme.

One of 13 recruits who enrolled at UGA earlier this month, Matthews possesses coverage skills that make him a natural fit to fill departed senior Bacarri Rambo’s shoes at free safety. But Matthews can do much more than play center field at the back end of Georgia’s pass defense.

“He’s a guy that’s a good communicator,” Grantham said. “He can play either safety position because of his size and his physicalness, but because of his athletic ability and his skillset, he would play the position that Rambo played.”

Tray Matthews
With his physical style of play, Tray Matthews could make an early impact in Georgia's defense.
Matthews’ coach at Newnan (Ga.) High School, Mike McDonald, would agree with that assessment wholeheartedly. Starting with a hard-hitting game against Fayette County as a ninth grader, Matthews displayed physicality in high school that indicated he could easily play in run support in college, as well.

“He’s probably a little more physical than your average [free safety]. He don’t mind putting the pads on you. He’ll hit you,” McDonald said. “I can see him playing the free or the strong [safety] to be honest with you. He has the athleticism to play the free, but he has the body and the mindset and the physicality to play the strong, as well.”

Grantham makes no secret of the value he places on versatility, and Matthews displayed more than enough of that in high school. Not only was he a defensive star for McDonald’s club, but he also emerged as a big-play threat at receiver.

And now that he’s at Georgia in time to participate in offseason workouts and spring practice, Matthews’ competitiveness and work ethic will come in handy as he attempts to claim some of the playing time that became available when longtime starters Rambo and Shawn Williams completed their college careers.

“He’s got a great opportunity in front of him,” McDonald said. “Going in early was a tough choice because he had to give up basketball and you give up spring of your senior year and that’s when most kids are having fun and all of that.

“That was hard, but it was the right decision because if they had Shawn Williams and Rambo coming back for another year, you don’t have to come in there and be as ready. So with the position they’re in and that he’s in, it was the right thing to do for both parties.”

The idea in enrolling early, of course, is to work toward playing as a freshman. The Bulldogs have Josh Harvey-Clemons -- should he stay in the secondary -- Corey Moore, Marc Deas and Connor Norman back at safety and Quincy Mauger (Marietta, Ga./Kell) joined Matthews as an early enrollee. Junior college prospects Shaq Fluker (Meridian, Miss./East Mississippi Community College) and Kennar Johnson (Clermont, Fla./Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College) and high schooler Paris Bostick (Tampa, Fla./Plant) are set to round out the Bulldogs’ class of five safety signees next week.

Matthews -- No. 129 on the ESPN 150 and the No. 10 safety -- is the highest-rated player in the bunch, so fulfilling his goal of contributing early is well within reach. McDonald said he simply needs to familiarize himself with Georgia’s defensive scheme and his role within it and that playing time will come once he develops the necessary knowledge base.

“Total knowledge of the game and those sort of things,” McDonald said when asked what area Matthews must improve in order to play early. “I think just his awareness is going to have to improve. And with him going in early, of course he’s going to get a leg up and that’s going to help him.”