He didn’t jump out right away.
That first game, a nighttime affair with city “rival” Villanova visiting Temple at Lincoln Financial Field in South Philly, it was kinda hard to notice. With a decent amount of returnees from the Owls’ second all-time bowl victory in tow, and another little-known newcomer putting on quite a show for the opposition even in a losing effort, Tyler Matakevich more or less just made his way onto the stat sheet … and nothing else.
There was no coming-out party to announce his entrance onto the college football scene. If anything that belonged to 'Nova quarterback John Robertson, who flashed the type of run-pass talents that would lead him to national FCS freshman of the year honors following that season and national FCS player of the year after last season.
Nope. Matakevich notched a pair of tackles in that blowout victory for Temple … and then disappeared for a few weeks. Heck, he was a veritable no-show in the numbers department for the next month, registering nothing in losses to Maryland and Penn State.
But that all changed on Oct. 6, 2012. For good. Especially Temple’s good.
In the Owls’ first game back as a Big East member, the linebacker made his first career start and lit up South Florida for 15 stops. A week later, he racked up 19 as Temple stunned Connecticut en route to a 2-0 conference start. Those efforts were a sign of things to come, of highly productive performances that would almost be routine for the red-haired, gap-toothed tackling machine.
By season’s end, he had recorded 101 combined stops. A year later, it was 137. Last year, 117.
You get the idea.
So, if anything, the guy should be a household name, not just in town but across the country, right?
Think again. Check out any publication’s preseason All-America teams or listings of the nation’s top however many players and you won’t find Matakevich on it. Why? Go figure. Maybe it’s a failing on those inside the city and out of it to recognize talent, accomplishment and that Temple is an up-and-coming program playing in a circuit – the American Athletic Conference – that can hold its own often with the Power 5 outfits.
Yep, despite being the nation’s leading career tackler with 355, his nearest challenger being fellow senior Mason Monheim of Illinois, who has 286, Matakevich still pretty much toils away in anonymity.
Only he does it better than anyone else.
The guy isn’t necessarily going to wow anyone with imposing size or freakish athleticism. His 6-foot-1 frame holds 235 pounds, so he isn’t small by any stretch. But the Owls certainly have more intimidating characters walking around the North Broad campus.
Once they strap on the helmet and pads, though, it’s a different story. Matakevich has a knack for recognizing a play and instinctively utilizes his skills to get to the ball. Even opponents who are faster, or quicker, or more elusive typically have issues shaking him. He sheds blocks, picks out a pursuit angle and just goes.
We’re not talking precise, exact science. Indeed, Matakevich may miss the “kill shot” more often than he’d like, but he’s a sure tackler who makes great use of his hands. So he may not be making the highlight reel for whatever ESPN show of the moment happens to be on; he just makes the play.
Oh, that’s not to suggest he doesn’t bring the house at times. He does. With Matt Rhule returning in 2013 as head coach, one of the first things that was asked of Matakevich was for him to become more physical. So, he did, first by increasing his offseason workout load and then by providing more impact plays, such as tackles for losses, forced fumbles, sacks, etc.
He has gift for rising to the occasion, too, as 16 tackles in an upset of ranked East Carolina last season would attest, as would his matching 16 in the season finale at Tulane that made Temple bowl-eligible for the first time since 2011. So, too, would his 13 stops at State College last fall, but they weren’t enough to help the Owls get past Penn State for the first time since 1941.
This afternoon, to kick off his final college campaign, Matakevich gets one last shot at the Nittany Lions.
Expect him to jump out right away this time.
- Jack Kerwin | firstname.lastname@example.org