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July 5, 2011
Looking Back: Cliff Matthews (part 3)
Former four-star prospect Cliff Matthews, a Cheraw native, finished his Gamecock career in 2010 as a team captain. He helped lead South Carolina to the program's first-ever SEC East championship and is revered by fans and the USC coaching staff as one of the hardest workers and best players to don the Garnet and Black.
Matthews, a 7th round NFL Draft selection by the Atlanta Falcons, recently took out some time to go in-depth with GamecockCentral.com on his career as a Gamecock. This is the final installment of the feature.
CLARK: Brad Lawing was your coach at South Carolina every year you were in Columbia except for the time you spent at linebacker. Talk to me about how he was as a coach and what you learned from him."
MATTHEWS: He's a beast, I'm not going to lie. I know one thing: every day, every practice he would give us a word. He would speak to us about life, not just about football. After football, there's life. He was a good inspiration to me. If I had a problem, or didn't understand something he was always there and made sure I understood it. He would take his time and was very patient."
CLARK: Who were your best friends on the team while you were at South Carolina?"
MATTHEWS: Jarriel King was probably the only one I was real, real close with. That's my boy. If I had to choose someone to go to war with, I would choose him."
CLARK: Steve Spurrier is one of the most interesting and talked about figures in college football. He was your head coach for four years. What was he like as a coach?
MATTHEWS: He was a perfectionist. He wanted everything perfect or somewhere around perfect. If you couldn't do something, he wanted you to do it the best you can and do it full speed. He doesn't like quitters. I saw him always getting on the quarterbacks, 'hold your arm like this', and all that. Even during the games, if we didn't get to the QB he was down there talking to us and saying to make something happen. He always wanted us to do the right thing not just on the field, but in the classroom.
CLARK: You covered Spurrier as a coach, but outside of a coaching and football setting, what was he like as a person?
MATTHEWS: He's a great guy. He would often tell us his dad was a preacher. I was telling you earlier about him making some changes. He would always bring in somebody to come speak to us. That head coach from Remember the Titans, Herman Boone came and spoke to us. Some guys got in trouble so he brought in the sheriff to talk to us about right and wrong. He brought the prosecutor in. It was to teach us what to do, what not to do, where to go, where not to go. The coach from the Tampa Bay Bucs from like five years ago, Jon Gruden, he came and spoke to us. He always put us in a good position for us to make ourselves better. If he couldn't do it, he would find somebody who could, somebody who had been there before.
CLARK: Name for me the most talented players you played with during your time at South Carolina.
MATTHEWS: I'm going to name a couple. I don't know if you remember this guy, his name was Chris Hail. He was pretty good now, he was an athlete. He was on the kickoff team, I remember him being the first guy down there by like six or seven yards every time. Devin Taylor, he really came a long way to be so long and tall. He's pretty athletic. Stephon Gilmore, he's a good one, now. Melvin Ingram, he's a big guy who can make stuff happen. Akeem Auguste. Victor Hampton, he's a beast if he just keeps his nose clean. He can really be a beast.
CLARK: On the flip side of that, who are the best players you had an opportunity to play against?
MATTHEWS: Michael Oher from Ole Miss. Tim Tebow, he's hard to tackle. Randall Cobb from Kentucky, now that's a beast He beat us by himself, hands down. He was everywhere. Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, those two there, I remember their rushing yards they had against us. It was 541. Coach Tyrone Nix, he was our d-coordinator at that time. He kept repeating that, '541 yards'.
Dexter McCluster, he was a beast. Matthew Stafford. Knowshon Moreno, the tailback from Georgia. A.J. Green, I mean everybody I named is in the SEC and doing pretty good right about now.
CLARK: After your senior year, you were getting ready for the draft and got invited to the NFL Combine.
MATTHEWS: I was ready. I did the best I could do and did everything full speed. I met with about twenty-eight teams and it was a good learning experience. I met a lot of coaches; it was good networking. If anything, the combine process is strictly business. You didn't get much time to sleep.
CLARK: Walk me throught draft day. Did you watch on TV, not pay attention, what did you do?
MATTHEWS: The first two days, I was home with family and we were just watching and patiently waiting. I think the third day, the first couple of rounds of the last day I got discouraged. I didn't think I was going to get picked up, so I came back to Columbia, home sweet home. I watched the draft some more and it was the sixth round and I hadn't got picked up.
I was on my way to Grilled Teriyaki in Five Points. I got a phone call and I didn't know I had been drafted. They called and asked me if I wanted to be a part of the organization. Of course, I said yes. The hard part is getting an opportunity. The easy part is working hard. After I got off the phone with them, I did a phone call interview with some media people. After that, I got about a hundred phone calls and a hundred text messages. My phone just shut off. It quit working. I don't know why.
CLARK: You helped South Carolina football do some things that had not been accomplished before. What do you feel like the future of the program is?
MATTHEWS: The foundation is built. I know the class of 2007, when I came in we were like the third best class in the nation. I felt like we built the foundation for these younger guys. Where we're at right now, we've got everything we need to be great. Win the East, win the SEC, win the national chamipionship, but only if you want to. We got (Jadeveon) Clowney, he's coming in here. Lattimore's here, Gilmore's back Auguste, Travian, Devin, Melvin Ingram, Stephen's back. I could go for days. Alshon's back, I mean we've got it all.
CLARK: Looking back on your career, what are the best memories of your time as a Gamecock?
One was graduating. Two was spending time with my teammates and being with my guys. They were like my brothers. Three was the (SEC) Eastern division championship. Four was beating Clemson back to back. Mr. (Eric) Hyman, if he granted me another year of eligibility I would take it in a heartbeat.
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