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"You get these walk-on, blue-collar guys," says Matthews' off-season trainer, Ryan Capretta, a former NFL strength coach and owner of Pro Active Sports Performance in Thousand Oaks, CA, "and what makes them is that effort level. Clay's got that mentality, and now his genetics have taken over and it's an amazing sight." Matthews didn't start a single game at Agoura until his senior year, even though his father-Clay Matthews Jr., a threetime NFL All-Pro who spent nearly two decades with the Cleveland Browns and Atlanta Falcons-was the team's defensive coordinator.
He simply wasn't ready, and he rarely saw the field.
And when they're organized group-style, with a dozen antsy alpha males from different teams performing the same drills simultaneously, the way the group dynamic shakes out can be telling.
"We have a lot of different personalities in the group," Capretta explains.
Ironically, despite his obvious limitations, Wegher says Matthews was better prepared for his future than any of his USC teammates.
"Clay's parents have done a terrific job of getting him ready for his career by keeping his head on straight," he says.
"We've got veterans like Keith Bulluck and looser young guys like Taylor Mays, but Clay's the big personality here.
Then he physically matures and has the same skills as everyone else, or better ones, but he also has that walk-on's motor that won't stop running. "My dad was a late bloomer, too," says Matthews, "so I just kept working as hard as I could, getting stronger and faster, and I ended up growing." At 6'3" and 255, Matthews' massive frame is virtually unrecognizable when compared with the self-described "skinny kid" who refused garbage-time game action in 2004 to preserve his redshirt status.What happens next, however, when the kid in question is William Clay Matthews III, the latest in an unbroken line of football royalty dating to the 1950s, is a declaration. The University of Southern California was, in 2004, home to Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, and dozens more future NFL players—a team that would win an eventually vacated national championship the year Matthews arrived armed only with a bad haircut and a dream."I don't even think Clay shaved at that point," says New York Jets linebacker Joey Larocque, Matthews' high school teammate and best friend since grammar school.At USC during the Pete Carroll years, the Trojans tended toward the basics, relying heavily on Olympic lifting, squatting, and benching."That's what worked to get me stronger and to get me where I was by the time I left USC," Matthews says, "so I wanted to just keep doing that to get ready for the NFL." Capretta, accustomed to preparing veteran players for an NFL season's potential six-month grind, had something else in mind.
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In Matthews' unique case, it's the late-blooming type whose genetics suddenly kick in one morning late in his college career, supplying him with an NFL-ready body to go along with the work ethic of a player accustomed to fighting tooth and nail for what scant playing time he could secure.