Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Matthews brothers relish opportunity
By Sam Khan Jr.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- As Jake and Mike Matthews settled in to watch the BCS championship game this January, Jake thought deeply about his future and whether to stick around Texas A&M for one more season, perhaps to make a run at playing in the type of game the two were about to watch on television, or declare for the NFL draft.
Mike Matthews is playing on the O-line with his brother Jake for the first time since high school.
Naturally, Jake sought advice from his father, Pro Football Hall of Famer and Tennessee Titans offensive line coach Bruce Matthews. The two spoke on the phone at length about Jake's options before Jake decided it was best to finish out his Aggie career.
Once his parents knew, the next person he told was Mike, now a sophomore center for Texas A&M. His reaction?
"'Alright, cool,'" Jake recalls Mike saying, nonchalantly. "And then watched the game. That's just way he is."
Now the two embark on a unique opportunity, brothers playing only two spots away from each other on the No. 7 Aggies' offensive line.
The 6-foot-5, 305-pound Jake is now a senior who spent his first three seasons at A&M playing right tackle. But after 2012 Outland Trophy winner Luke Joeckel declared for the 2013 draft and joined the Jacksonville Jaguars, who drafted him second overall, Jake is now manning Joeckel's old left tackle spot.
Mike, a 6-2, 285-pounder who backed up starter Patrick Lewis at center last season, played late in games when the Aggies held comfortable leads in 2012, so the two didn't have a chance to play on the field at the same time last season. With Lewis having graduated and Mike next in line to start at center, the chance to do so existed.
"It's one of the main reasons I wanted to come back and finish up my senior year here, just the opportunity to play with him," Jake said. "… It's always something real special to play with your brother, especially a sport like this and especially playing on the o-line, just because it's such a close-knit group."
The pair had the chance once before, under similar circumstances. When Jake was a high school senior and Mike -- then known as "Mikey" -- was a sophomore at Missouri City (Texas) Elkins High School, they spent a season starting at left tackle, and center, respectively.
Fast forward four years and the pair are playing together on a top-10 team and blocking for one of the country's most explosive offenses, which includes Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Johnny Manziel.
Jake has established himself as an elite tackle. He was a first-team All-SEC selection last season, was named a first-team All-American by the Football Writers’ Association of America and was projected by many to be a first round pick in the 2013 draft, had he elected to enter it. That will still likely be the case when 2014 arrives.
Mike, in his first year starting for the Aggies, has already impressed the coaching staff. His debut as a starter on Saturday in a win over Rice yielded positive results, according to Coach Kevin Sumlin.
"He handled [adjustments] very, very well," Sumlin said. "Really, after the first series, he played extremely well. I think that was evident by our ability to rush the football effectively."
For Jake, there is an adjustment phase in moving from right tackle to left tackle.
"It's definitely different," Jake said. "I played left tackle throughout high school but playing college football three years at right tackle you definitely get some tendencies. That's been a little bit of a challenge, getting used to flipping everything, your feet and all that stuff."
Sumlin calls Jake, one of the Aggies’ team captains, a classic "low maintenance, great player," the same compliment he used on Joeckel.
Outside the whistles, their personalities are distinct, according to coaches and teammates.
"I would say Mike Matthews is the more rowdy guy and Jake is more quiet," senior running back Ben Malena said. "I think with [Mike] playing the position that he does, by him being vocal it helps him a lot."
"I guess I am a little loud," he said. "[Jake] always tells me I'm annoying because I don't shut my mouth. I do a lot of talking. When I get on the field, I start yelling around a little bit. I'm kind of hyper."
Jake even compared Mike's personality to that of a former Texas A&M defensive lineman who was known for his outsized personality.
"He's like the new Spencer Nealy," Jake said. "He's always been like that growing up. You would think we were raised by different parents. He's always yelling and excited and stuff. It's fun to have someone like that on the team because he picks up the energy and gets guys excited. I'm not sure where he gets it from though."
Jake has his share of fun, too, though. Though Mike seemingly shed the "Mikey" nickname once he left high school, Jake has done his best to keep it alive.
"Everyone calls him Mike and I call him Mikey," Jake said. "It is kind of funny, because now half the guys on the team call him 'Mikey,' and it's kind of funny to see it. [Quarterback] Matt Joeckel does it the most and makes fun of him with it. It's second nature [for me] to call him Mikey, I've been calling him that since we've been running around like little kids."
Jake doesn't escape ribbing however. Offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney has gotten in a jab or two.
"I always tease Jake and tell him he's the fourth-best center in his family," said McKinney, referring to Bruce, Kevin and Mike Matthews who have all played center. "He'll be a guy who leads us and we're definitely happy to have both of those guys be a part of this program."
The pair aren't the first of the Matthews men to don the maroon-and-white, though. Their older brother Kevin Matthews, who spent three years with the Tennessee Titans and spent time in Washington Redskins camp last month, also played for the Aggies.
With Bruce being a Hall of Famer, Kevin having played in the NFL and Jake next in line, Mike said he wants to follow in his elders' footsteps. The bond he shares with Jake is a strong one.
"We spend a lot of time together," Mike said. "He's like a best friend to me and every single day we have basically the same schedule. We go to class, go to football practice, hang out there, go home, watch TV together, hang out, joke around, just like any old brother relationship."
While Mike was a big reason that Jake returned for one final season in Aggieland, there were a few others too. Jake, a university studies major in A&M's Mays Business School, is on track to earn his degree in December, three-and-a-half years after he stepped on campus. It never hurts to make your mother happy, which Jake did. Carrie Matthews was hopeful for the opportunity to see two of her five sons share the field together at least one more fall. And Jake feels like there are special things ahead for the Aggies.
"We're a great team right now and we're getting a lot of publicity," Jake said. "That was one of the main things I liked. We have a chance to do some special things and I really wanted to be a part of that."
The Aggies are thankful to have them both this season.
"Let me just tell you that I'm extremely happy to have Mike Matthews here, because I do believe if he wasn't here, Jake Matthews wouldn't be here this year," McKinney said with a smile. "We're happy about that."