"It was real exciting," R.J. Mattes told Pack Pride. "My first game back and nine months of rehab. The process was long and tiring, but I got through it.
"I have to thank the athletic training staff for all their help because they pushed me. I even came back a little earlier than expected so I appreciate all the work they did for me. It's great to be back."
One of NC State's top recruits in the 2008 class, Mattes redshirted as a true freshman before winning a starting job at right guard last fall. The youngest player to start on the line for NC State since 2003, Mattes started the first eight games before suffering a torn ACL just five snaps into the Florida State contest.
"Pushing around a 300-pound dude is not easy," said Mattes. "You're putting a lot of pressure on the ACL... you've got to push off. I know [NC State cornerback] Jarvis Byrd, he hurt his ACL and has some hard cutting off that knee. Offensive line is difficult [to work back from an ACL injury], but a lot easier than all the cutting you've got to do at corner."
He wasn't able to participate in spring practice but returned to the field this fall intent on contributing at right tackle, the position he was recruited to play in the first place.
"I came in to play tackle," said Mattes. "They wanted to play he best five last year so they moved me down to guard. I liked it because I got some work and we had a veteran senior, Jeraill McCuller, alreay at tackle. Now the coaches can kick me back out to tackle this year."
Mattes would be the first to tell you that he is still working his way back. He came in to relieve starter Gary Gregory early in the game and had a couple of penalties called on him as well. How would he grade his performance?
"I'd probably give myself a 'B' or 'B-' because of the penalties," said Mattes. "I had to knock some rust off with it being my first game back in 10 months. I had two penalties for not lining up on the line of scrimmage, the easiest thing in football to do. That's disappointing, but I'll get that fixed."
"We spent the last three weeks trying to get him back," NC State head coach Tom O'Brien said of Mattes. "He went 2-to-1 and then he started alternating each series, so we'll see how he is when we get back out here Saturday and Sunday.
"We'll see how he's feeling to see how much he can go on. He's not very sharp in a lot of things right now."
A healthy R.J. Mattes will go a long way to solidifying NC State's offensive line rotation. The coaching staff has consistently praised him over the past year and O'Brien has even stated that he is the key to the offensive line. Mattes has the tools to be a future pro, and his teammates certainly respect him as a player.
"R.J. is a great player," said tight end George Bryan. "He has great feet and outstanding hands. R.J. is an all-around, great football player, and he's smart. He knows how to play the game. He's going to really help us as he keeps playing even more."
O'Brien feels the same way.
"Certainly with the lack of depth and experience we have on the offensive line, [Mattes is] going to be a big thing going forward for us."