Tray Matthews: 'The world's gonna see. My time is coming'

semerson@macon.comSeptember 18, 2013 

Free safety Tray Matthews during the Clemson game.

JIM HIPPLE — UGA sports communications

ATHENS - Tray Matthews spent a lot of time after Wednesday's practice explaining why he hasn't become a star yet. He talked about the injuries, the new targeting rules, and the former Georgia stars who have reached out providing encouragement.

Finally, it was pointed out to Matthews that he was still only a freshman - a true freshman - who has played just two games. He's not supposed to be an all-SEC candidate two games into his career.

Matthews grinned.

"That's one thing my dad keeps stressing," Matthew said. "He says, 'Son, I know what you can do. Just wait for your time to come. But you're a freshman, you're only gonna get better.'"

But Matthews is impatient. In his mind he's not even a freshman because he has been on campus so long, having enrolled early and gone through spring practice. That was when he earned the starting free safety job, and had veteran players raving about him.

So after two pretty quiet games, albeit ones in which he started and hardly came off the field, Matthews was receiving text messages from former Georgia safeties Thomas Davis and Sean Jones.

"They texted me and were like: 'Your play is gonna come. We were in the same spot as you. The play is gonna come, don't worry about it. We know what kinda player you are. Just keep on getting better,'" Matthew said. "And I'm not worried about it because I know what kinda player I am too."

But Davis, now with the NFL's Carolina Panthers, actually redshirted his first season at Georgia. Matthews didn't know that.

So are the expectations - Matthews' own and that of others - too high this early? Not according to him.

"The world is gonna see. My time is coming, that's all I can say," Matthew said.

So far the world has seen a player who by his own admission has been tentative. It goes back to the preseason when Matthews was limited by injuries, first a shoulder and then a hamstring. He missed about two weeks' worth of practices, and was limited in several more.

Matthews was still able to make the start at Clemson, making four tackles and assisting on four more. But he didn't feel like himself, saying he was playing "scared," both because of the injury and the first-game jitters.

"Going out there I was hyped, I was tensing up. I was like, it's my first game I don't wanna mess up on TV. That's kind of the reason I don't think I played as fast as I can," Matthews said. "I don't want to mess up. I'm on the big screen, if I mess up they'll be like: Dang, Tray Matthews did this, he did that. But now I've made my mistakes, I'm ready to go out and play my game."

Indeed, he felt more comfortable the next week against South Carolina. But he was actually less productive, at least on paper, only recording four tackles, all assists.

Head coach Mark Richt said the preseason injuries "definitely set him back," particularly a player who likes to hit hard and make big plays.

"Getting hurt when he got hurt was tough. There was a lot of time he missed," Richt said. "I think it definitely slowed down his progression."

Another thing slowing Matthews down, or at least in the back of his mind, are the new targeting rules. He hasn't been flagged for anything yet, but he's aware of what could happen, whether it be a 15-yard penalty or even an ejection.

"I can't hit like I used to, or like I want to. Now I have to lower my target," Matthews said. "When you're reacting to somebody catching the ball, you're not thinking about getting low or doing all this. You're just thinking about hitting them. And my first target was the head and the neck-chest area. Now I don't know if I'll be able to make that (hitting) impact I used to make, but hopefully I can still."

Still, Matthews expects it to be a snowball effect: Once he makes his first big play - an interception, a big hit - more will follow.

"I wanna be that guy that makes the crowd go 'ooh' and 'aah'. I want to be that just hypes my team up by making the impact plays that I can make," Matthews said.

Follow Seth Emerson at @sethemerson.

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