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 second installment of the feature.
CLARK: At the end of the 2009 season, South Carolina defeated Clemson at Williams-Brice Stadium. Tell me about the particular game and how you and your teammates felt afterwards.
MATTHEWS: It felt great, felt terrific. Them coming to our place, they were ranked pretty high. They came in cocky, talking junk. They had a really good tailback. They were really cocky. We were really prepared. Coach Spurrier said before it even started, that one of our goals was to beat Clemson. That's one thing Coach Spurrier stressed, was beating Clemson. A lot of our fans look forward to it. We beat them pretty bad, 34-17.
CLARK: After the Clemson game was the PapaJohns.com Bowl, which was not as positive of an experience. What do you feel like happened in Birmingham?
MATTHEWS: We didn't play really at all. I think half the team was focused and the other half wasn't focused at all. I think we let the weather get an advantage on us. Everybody was pissed off. We had a team meeting (after the bowl), before summer training started back and set our goals and all the team leaders. We told the team 'this is what we're going to do this year', and we did it (in 2010).
CLARK: What are some of the changes you have referenced that Coach Spurrier or the team changed?
MATTHEWS: We changed some of the stuff that we did in the summer. We started doing pilates, combat training, more simulated training, more seven on-sevens. We started lifting more and doing different things in the weightroom. We just stepped our game up all-around.
CLARK: Moving ahead to the 2010 season, you all took care of Southern Miss in the first game before playing the first big SEC contest against Georgia and were able to win that one 17-6.
MATTHEWS: It's one of our rival games. Coach Spurrier, he gave us a talk before the game to get us ready to play. This is a rival game, right up under playing Clemson. We stepped up and played a complete game and finished.
CLARK: I want to ask you about Marcus Lattimore. I know you knew to a degree how good he was, having seen him in practice. He played his first game against Southern Miss and had a pair of touchdowns and 54 rushing yards. Then in his second college game he rushed for 182 yards against an SEC opponent. What were you thinking watching that on the sideline?
MATTHEWS: I've never seen a freshman tailback do what he did so early in his career It was just a matter of time, once he broke the ice. After that game, I expected more from him every game and he just about did it every game.
CLARK: He's someone who is always talked about in terms of work ethic and character, and the type of person he is. What would you say your opinion of him is?
MATTHEWS: Marcus, he's a down-to-earth guy. He's a hard worker. He does the extra stuff. He always does what the other tailbacks should be doing, which is coming back for extra stuff. He's humble, a great guy and does what he's supposed to do.
CLARK: There were obviously other highlights during the season, including defeating number one Alabama at Williams-Brice. You all went down to Gainesville and beat Florida. What was it like to be a part of winning the school's first SEC East championship?
MATTHEWS: It was an incredible feeling. We just knew we were going to win, so we were playing like champions. Pretty much dominated that. It was something special when we got back to Columbia. They pretty much had a prep rally at the stadium for us. I've never felt like it in my life. I wish I could do it again, though.
CLARK: And then for the first time since 1970, a South Carolina football team defeated Clemson in back-to-back seasons. How did you and the rest of the team feel after accomplishing that?
MATTHEWS: Before the game, coach was telling us something about a chicken curse or something silly. He said we haven't beat them two years in a row. They (Clemson players) were running their chompers, so we had to set it right the hard way.
CLARK: Another one I'm sure was a thrill was playing Auburn again in the Georgia Dome for the SEC title. Tell me about that game.
MATTHEWS: We made that team seem like they were a lot bigger than what they really were. As a group, we did not play well at all. We did not come to play. I had a decent game, but it doesn't matter being a loss. We're not going to make excuses. Playing in the Georgia Dome, that's something we have to get used to. We're going to be playing in it a lot more over the next decade or couple of decades.
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