Skim through the stats, notes and numbers for Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews, considered one of the top wide receivers in this week’s NFL draft, and one sidenote makes you stop: cousin of Jerry Rice.
That must explain Matthews’ work ethic, which bordered on legendary during his four years at Vanderbilt.
“He’s a tireless worker, the hardest worker I’ve ever met in my life, prides himself on it every day,” said former Vanderbilt quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels, whose dorm room was next to Matthews’.
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At night, the two would talk about training the next morning.
“Could we push it to 8 a.m.?” Carta-Samuels would ask.
“Do you want to be great?” Matthews would respond. “If so, meet me at 6:30.”
The Rice connection might make Matthews’ incredible production easier to understand. He ended his stay at Vanderbilt with more receiving yards – 3,759 – than anyone in Southeastern Conference history. Against some of the nation’s top defenses last year, Matthews finished with 112 catches and 1,477 yards, the fourth-most of any Division I-A player.
That he has a bloodline to the greatest, and perhaps most determined, receiver of all time might also explain the anvil-size chip on Matthews’ shoulder. Teammates say that at a small school that faces behemoth football programs on a near weekly basis, that chip is what fueled his success.
“He wouldn’t let anyone tell him someone is better than he is,” said Ryan Seymour, a 49ers offensive lineman who spent three years with Matthews at Vanderbilt. “Whoever picks him up is going to get a steal.”
The chip emerged at the scouting combine when Matthews was asked about his speed. His famous cousin once had to answer those questions, too.
“The scouts – they’ve all watched the film and, I have never been caught,” Matthews said. “I’ve played four years in high school and four years of college, and I still haven’t been caught. I know where my speed is, and I know I am one of the fastest guys in the country, if not the fastest, with the ball in my hands.”
The truth, however, is while Rice certainly kept up with Matthews’ progress, it’s mostly been from afar.
While Matthews and his brother, Justin, 17 months his senior, were growing up, Rice was in the midst of his NFL career. Rice lives in California. The Matthewses are from Alabama.
Rice and Matthews’ mother, Brenda, grew up near each other outside Crawford, Miss. Rice was a year older, and she remembers playing basketball, baseball and football alongside Rice – her second cousin – and her brothers.
“We are all part of the gang,” she said. “We played more with siblings than neighborhood kids, because it wasn’t much of a neighborhood. It was a rural area, and we had such a large family. We played with our siblings and our cousins.”
She said if she sees Rice at a family gathering, he’ll ask about Jordan. But the Matthewses never have pressed the issue. Her son’s drive and dedication, she said, comes from her and her husband, Roderick.
Jordan’s early-morning workouts at Vanderbilt, for example, merely are a carry-over from his childhood routine. Even in the summer, the boys would get up at 6 a.m. and read books – from “The Lord of the Flies” to “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” to John Grisham novels – for two hours before they were allowed to go outside and play.
It’s no surprise then that Matthews chose Vanderbilt, the rare SEC school known more for academics than football, or that he scored a 29 on the Wonderlic intelligence test most draft-eligible players are given, the highest score among the top receivers in the draft.
NFL teams are eying Matthews in the second round, or perhaps even at the end of the first. At 6-foot-3 and 212 pounds, he has good size, and he has the long arms (331/4 inches) and huge hands (103/8 inches) that 49ers general manger Trent Baalke, who is expected to take a receiver early, likes in his prospects.
Seymour, who hopes to be reunited with his one-time Vanderbilt teammate, said the Commodores’ players knew about Matthews’ relation to Rice but it never was a big deal.
“But it is something to be proud of and is kind of cool,” he said. “It makes sense. It looks like greatness definitely runs in his family. I think he’s going to have a great career in the NFL wherever he ends up. I’m excited to see where he goes.”