"I've never had an opportunity quite like this one since I've been here," Mattes said. "That was the whole point of coming back for a fifth year. I came here wanting to play football at Notre Dame and that was my goal. I couldn't walk away without giving it my best chance. That's why I came back and am working hard."
Mattes is getting quite a workout in practice. Every time the number one defense goes up against the number one offense, Mattes has the job of keeping Victor Abiamiri out of the backfield. The senior defensive end led Notre Dame in sacks last year with eight and is making Mattes earn the coveted starting spot.
"Victor is a great player," Mattes said. "He's been starting at that position for a long time here. It's been going well. Pushing myself against him has made me a better player to prepare for the season."
His competition for the right tackle spot are sophomore Paul Duncan and freshman Sam Young. Duncan appeared in five games in 2005, logging 23 minutes of game time. Young is a beast, towering at 6-7 and weighing 292 pounds. Mattes said Young has the longest arms he's ever seen. As an older player, Mattes is trying to show the six freshmen the ropes of being a college football offensive lineman.
"Coming in as a freshman, it's a tough thing," Mattes said. "They actually know more than we did because they've been here all summer long. The most important things are getting acquainted and knowing the speed of the game. They've done a good job picking it up and they're getting quality reps in this camp."
But Young, a freshman, is in the mix for that starting spot. Mattes just wants what's best for the Irish, saying hopefully it's him in there at right tackle against Georgia Tech.
"You have to look at it and be selfless," Mattes said about teaching the freshmen vs. wanting to win the job. "You want what is best for the team at all times. Even if I win the job, I'm still going to need a real good backup who we can trust. If someone can beat me out, then I want them to be the best for the team. That's what we've been working towards."
Last year as a senior, Mattes was in a unique position. He logged 21 minutes of action in nine game appearances. According to head coach Charlie Weis, Mattes was the backup not at just one position along the offensive line but all of them. Add this to his four years already at Notre Dame and you have a knowledgeable player.
"Being around so long, I have a good grasp of the offense," Mattes said. "Even with Coach Weis being here, I've played every position except for center. I've never snapped a ball in my life. It would be difficult. But I know the offense and have a general understanding and a broad base of knowledge. That helps me. I can see the defense and know what to expect."
Mattes is one member of a veteran offensive line group. Ryan Harris and John Sullivan are both seniors. Bob Morton and Dan Santucci, like Mattes, applied and received fifth-years of eligibility. A lot of good and bad times have been spent on the field with this unit.
"Everyday we try to push one another, whether it's at right tackle or left guard," Mattes said. "There's always an ongoing competition to get better as a unit. That's the trick, especially when you have a lot of upperclassmen who are veterans and experienced. That's how you keep the competition going."
They keep in touch after practice as well.
"I think we're all good friends off the field," Mattes said. "Personally, me and Dan Santucci, this will be our fourth year of living together. We've been through it all together. You can say that for most of the guys. As a unit, we're definitely close off the field and go to dinner a lot."