After playing sparingly in his first three seasons, Matthews —once a receiver, later converted to running back, then eventually to cornerback—was given a great task, but tough challenge, from his coaches, well before the regular season.
"It showed me that the coaching staff had faith in me and believed in me," said Matthews. "It definitely boosted my confidence and gave me motivation to push myself in the offseason and be as good as I could possibly be this season."
Matthews performed well in spring practice, and Fitzgerald was impressed. The head coach had no hesitations in naming Matthews the starting cornerback.
"I wouldn't put a guy out there unless we had 100 percent confidence that he was going to go out there and help us win," said Fitzgerald. "Once he won that starting role last offseason, I think he settled in and worked his butt off to be the guy."
Matthews had served as a key member with the Wildcats' special teams units, recording 33 tackles during his first three seasons. When given the starting role, Matthews was asked to be a crucial piece of a veteran defense.
"I think the biggest thing he had to adjust to early was going from being one of the guys to being the guy—a role player to being the guy out there on the island," said Pat Fitzgerald. "He's really handled it well."
Matthews faced many ups and downs during his senior season. While the Wildcats endured their five-game losing streak, he was part of a secondary which struggled at times.
However, Matthews worked hard to learn from each mistake, with the help of a strong support system.
"People like Brian Peters, Coach (Jerry) Brown, Coach Fitz, they all chip in and help it get corrected," Matthews said. "You have to want to get it corrected first and foremost."
Matthews learned from the struggles, and showed major improvements after Northwestern's tough stretch. He finished the season with 51 total tackles. He capped the season off with a strong showing on Senior Day against Michigan State, recording nine tackles and intercepting his first career pass.
"I think he's done a great job," said Fitzgerald. "It's not the easiest position in the world. If you're the right guard and get beat, nobody knows about it. If you're the corner and get beat, everyone who follows our program knows. I think he's handled that really, really well."
Through an offseason of hard work, Matthews was trusted to be ‘the guy' for the Wildcats, and progressed into a staple of the defense.
Matthews now faces one more start at cornerback—that coming in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. He treasures the final days in a Northwestern uniform.
"You got to cherish these last couple practices," Matthews said. "For a lot of us, this is as far as it goes. All I can say is that it went fast, I had a lot of fun, and looking forward to closing it out with a bang."