Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews will be in reach of a couple of different SEC receiving marks in 2013.
He needs 804 receiving yards to break the career record held by Georgia’s Terrence Edwards, who racked up 3,093 yards from 1999-2002. Matthews can also break the career receptions record if he catches 87 passes next season. That record was set by Vanderbilt’s Earl Bennett, who caught 236 passes from 2005-07.
Matthews, who produced one of the finest seasons ever a year ago by a Vanderbilt receiver, is fully aware that those records are out there. But he’s not chasing them.
He’s chasing a lot more than records.
“My goal is to go out and win an SEC championship and a national championship and be a pivotal part of that happening,” said Matthews, who caught 94 passes for 1,323 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
“That’s the legacy I want to leave.”
Even with his huge season a year ago and the Commodores winning nine games for the first time in nearly a century, Matthews was convinced there was more to accomplish. He considered making himself available for the NFL draft, but kept arriving at the same conclusion.
The best was yet to come at Vanderbilt.
“I’m fully committed to going 1-0 every week and getting this Vanderbilt program where we all know it can be,” Matthews said. “The only thing I see is what’s in front of me.”
Matthews’ razor-sharp focus is one of his best traits, not to mention his 6-3, 205-pound frame, massive hands and the ability to go up and over just about any defensive back and get the football.
“Even when he’s not open, he’s the kind of receiver who’s going to find a way to go make the play,” Vanderbilt quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels said.
But, then, Matthews has always found a way.
He went to high school in Madison, Ala., and barely got a sniff from college recruiters. Matthews admits he didn’t know much about the recruiting process at the time. He went on a mission trip to Africa in June prior to his senior year of high school and didn’t attend any camps until later that summer.
“I was the first player to go to a Division I school from my high school (Madison Academy),” Matthews said. “Head coaches were hesitant to pull the trigger.”
Matthews, who had 13 touchdown catches his senior year of high school, sent out his game tapes and did his best to market himself. But there weren’t a lot of takers.
In fact, there were none.
“My senior season ended, and I’m standing there on the field with no state championship ring and no scholarship offers,” he said. “Not even Alabama A&M offered me. Troy didn’t. Jackson State didn’t. None of those schools did.”
Matthews said Vanderbilt had been recruiting him all along, but had talked about the possibility of his grayshirting and delaying enrollment until that next January.
“My mom wasn’t crazy about me hanging around in the fall and not being in college,” Matthews said.
The Commodores were only going to take four receivers in that class. But right before Christmas, one of them de-committed.
“Coach (Bobby) Johnson called me on Christmas Eve, and I committed on Christmas Day,” Matthews said. “I just hung in there and waited by the phone.”
It’s a Christmas gift that keeps on giving for the Commodores, and that whole experience only made Matthews that much more determined.
“My mom would always say that it was a blessing in disguise,” Matthews said. “Look at the way it’s turned out, to be here at a great school like Vanderbilt and a part of what coach (James) Franklin is building here.
“But I can tell you that I still play with a chip on my shoulder, and that chip has helped drive me to where I am. I don’t plan on letting up any time soon.”
Matthews was a first-team All-SEC selection last season. His 94 catches were the second most ever by an SEC player in a season, and he’s a lock to be on the preseason Biletnikoff Award lists.
Where does he rank among the best returning receivers in college football in 2013?
Matthews offers a confident shrug.
“I’m used to being overlooked,” he said. “When you go through that for so long, you end up being immune to it and don’t care. To be honest, I can play with any receiver, so I’m not worried about that.
“People say statistics don’t lie. What doesn’t lie are wins and losses. That trumps any argument. You can’t argue with championships.
“That’s what I’m worried about.”