R.J. Mattes admits that he heard the rumors. A lot of folks expected him to commit to Clemson. Others felt he would follow in his dad's footsteps and play at Virginia. Few thought his eventual destination would be Raleigh, North Carolina.
"Yes sir, I kept hearing all kinds of rumors," said Mattes. "To be honest with you, I never had a clue where I was going... I didn't know for sure until here recently. It surprised me that some people had me going to this school or that school.
"Everyone would bug me about it, but I was telling them the truth when I said I had no idea and I had no leaders."
Mattes, regarded as the top offensive lineman in the Carolinas and the No. 11 offensive tackle in the country according to Scout.com, garnered dozens of offers but narrowed his focus to NC State, Clemson, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina fairly early.
His signature performance came in the 2007 Shrine Bowl when he lined up for much of the day against five-star defensive end DaQuan Bowers. Regarded as the nation's top defensive player the No. 1 defensive end in the country, Bowers had dominated the opposition all season and all week during Shrine Bowl practices, but Mattes more than held his own.
|Mattes vs. Bowers (No. 40)|
"He's a great player," said Mattes. "The first snap I looked across at him and I admit it, I was a little nervous. But I thought back to the advice my dad gave me the night before. He said to remember that he is the best player I will have ever played against, but to know that I'm the best player he's ever played against too. When I thought about that, I was fine. I feel I did well against him, and he's a phenominal player. I did my best... it was a good game, but we did lose."
Looking to make an informed decision, his plan was simple. Try and attend camps at all five schools. Look to make as many fall football games as possible. Take official visits to all five programs and following the visits, reach a decision. Mattes stuck to his plan.
This past weekend he took his final trip, a visit to South Carolina, and on the way back from Columbia he finalized his college decision.
"I had a good visit to South Carolina," said Mattes. "They showed me a good time, and I was able to experience the college life down there.
"That was my last visit, and I was just getting tired of the recruiting process. I probably could have waited a couple of days to decide, but really I took that long drive back with my dad to talk about the schools and come to a decision."
Mattes informed his dad that he wanted to commit to NC State.
"I went with my gut feeling," he stated. "It was a hard decision because a lot of great schools were looking at me. A lot of them wanted me. I feel I did a good job of evaluating all of my options, and it finally clicked that NC State was the best place for me. That is why I chose the Wolfpack.
"My dad was all pumped up. He has a great relationship with coach O'Brien and it's close to home. Plus, we have a lot of friends back home that are NC State fans... I know they all will be coming up to Raleigh and tailgating with my dad."
|"He was pumped."|
The hardest part of the process was informing the other coaches that he wouldn't be attending their school. Mattes had developed strong relationships with each of his recruiting coaches, and those calls were difficult.
"Calling the other coaches was probably the toughest," he said. "I got to know them all real well. It was hard, but I know I made the best decision for me, and it was great getting to tell coach O'Brien that I was going to play for him.
"[Laughing] I never really heard coach O'Brien get all excited, but he let out a big scream when I committed. He was pumped. He said that I had him fooled because he thought maybe I was leaning somewhere else, but I never tipped my hand."
O'Brien's presence at NC State appears to have been the deciding factor. The Wolfpack head coach had his in-home late last week, and that seemed to turn the tide in NC State's favor.
R.J.'s dad, Ron, played offensive tackle at Virginia in the early 1980s before spending seven seasons in the National Football League. At that time, Tom O'Brien was the offensive line coach for the Cavaliers. O'Brien and the elder Mattes remain close, and that bond was critical. Another factor was O'Brien's ability to produce NFL offensive linemen... not only at Virginia, but also at Boston College. During his in-home, O'Brien didn't do anything but stress the facts and that caught R.J.'s attention.
"I kind of started really getting that feeling after my in-home visit with O'Brien," said Mattes. "It was a great in-home... it was really great. He came in and stayed a few hours an he gave me the numbers on how many linemen he has put in the NFL... that will catch any offensive lineman's attention.
"Plus being with him and seeing him interact with my dad... that strong relationship they have, it all felt good."
Another move that NC State made which could have been big was securing the first official visit with Mattes. He tripped to NC State the weekend the Wolfpack defeated in-state rival North Carolina, a thrilling win that left Carter-Finley Stadium in a frenzy. It sounds like that first trip set the bar for the other trips Mattes would take.
|"They also have Mike Glennon."|
"It definitely set the bar, and I never forgot about that experience," said Mattes. "I just remember how crazy that atmosphere was and how great of an experience I had.
"It was an awesome visit. The College Inn, where I'll be staying, is amazing and my host, J.R. Sweezy, he showed me a good time. I had a blast on my visit."
One of the first people Mattes informed of his commitment was actually Wolfpack verbal Mike Glennon, the 6-foot-6 signal-caller from Chantilly, Virginia.
"State has a great recruiting class coming in and they got a lot of the best in-state players," he said. "They also have Mike Glennon. We both play XBOX Live and are always playing each other online.
"I sent a text to Mike saying I was going to State, and I'll never forget it. He called me right then and was all pumped up. He told me that he let his mom know and she wanted him to tell me that she loves me because she knows I'll be out there protecting his blindside."
When asked to name the deciding factor, Mattes responded right away: Tom O'Brien.
"It's close to home, but the biggest deciding factor had to be [coach] O'Brien being there," he said. "His track record of putting offensive linemen into the league is amazing, and I'll be at State five years and I know he'll be there.
"I know I'll probably end up redshirting, and I know he is going to make me the best player I can be. It was all coach O'Brien and his track record. Now that it's all over with I'm so pumped up, and I can't wait to be a part of the Wolfpack next year."
Mattes, who now checks in at 6-foot-6 and 280 pounds, was recruited to play left tackle for the Wolfpack. He is going in looking to compete right away but is more than willing to redshirt if that is what is best for his future.
"I talked with coach about it and he said if I go in and earn a spot then I'll play but, it just depends on what I do and how I handle it," said Mattes. "If I have to redshirt then I'll redshirt but it's all up to me and how quickly I can progress."