The expectations that the average Ohio State fans may have for Thomas Matthews, a fifth-year senior from Dillard High School in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., are probably not very high, or they may not even have any expectations for him at all. But after a stellar performance this past spring at linebacker, he's proven that he is ready, willing and more than able to perform when called upon.
"I just take it has a challenge," Matthews said. "People might not have accounted for me and so whatever I do is a bonus. I'm just going to go out there and try to do what I can to help the team win and maybe they'll notice me then."
A highly-touted linebacker and a tackling machine in high school, Matthews is back to playing his natural position after a stint in the secondary. He feels that his solid play this spring is just an indication of what he is capable of doing in the fall.
"I feel great, and I'm working hard with the guys (at linebacker) to better the defense and better the team," he said. "Whatever I can do and whatever I show the coaches that I can do, I'm willing to do."
That's not just a tired cliche being echoed by Matthews, a player whose high school football number was retired. A lesser young man might not have been able to handle the switch to the secondary and then back to linebacker with such humility.
"I've just been patient, waiting for my opportunity to come," he said. "They say that good things come to those that wait and I believe in that."
Has it been tough for him?
"Not with this group of guys. Time goes by (so fast) and we have a great time, and we have a great group of guys and I really love it here," Matthews said. "So you just have to wait for your time to do your thing, and when you get your time you have to perform."
Matthews was a part of that great haul of linebackers in the recruiting class of 2000 that included Robert Reynolds and Marco Cooper. A relative unknown to this point, Matthews is now the sole survivor among that group after Reynolds enjoyed a solid career at OSU and Cooper's was cut short because of his off-the-field activities.
"Things change and adversity comes and you've just got to roll with it," Matthews said. "You always have to try to do for the good of the team, regardless of the circumstances. So whatever I can do, I'll do."
Changing positions in midstream might actually make Matthews a better linebacker overall now.
"I've tried to take it as a learning experience he said," he said. "Going to safety helped me to understand the secondary, and going back to linebacker helps me understand how it all fits together on defense. I have that toughness from playing linebacker and the coverage skill part from playing in the secondary, and when you throw it all together it makes you a complete player."
Cie Grant perfected such an art in his senior season at Ohio State.
"I would sit there and watch him go out there and play corner and then (as a linebacker) he would take on an iso," Matthews said. "When a team wanted to go five wide and we needed an extra guy, Cie Grant would always be the guy that would stay in there and do the job."
Like Grant, Matthews, listed at 6-2, 220, has the kind of speed at linebacker that can afford him some quality minutes despite being a member of such a deep and talented and veteran linebacking unit.
"Speed is my best asset right now, and so I'm trying to keep that going to help me get on the field more," Matthews said. "With all of the talent that we have, that just makes my opportunities that much more special to me. I just have to work hard and strive for that moment and when that time comes I have to be ready."
Off of the field, Matthews fills an even greater role for the good of the team. It's no secret that the main role of every member of Jim Tressel's senior class is to offer quality leadership.
"Being a senior I'm trying to take on that leadership role, and I want to encourage all of my teammates and also take the young guys under my wing. They don't know the ropes real good so I'm trying to show them how we do things here," he said. "In the weight room, I'm trying try to show them how we work hard, and then on the field, how to keep their composure and handle every thing as it comes.
"And do everything with class."
Matthews has done just that in his first four years as a Buckeye.
"I don't regret coming to Ohio State at all," he said. "I love it here."