"Whatever It Takes To Win"
In the first game of the season against North Carolina State, the South Carolina defense was dominant and seemed to have all the answers. However, this past Saturday in Athens, the Gamecock defense looked as if it was a completely different unit.
The defense wasn't alone in their struggles against the Georgia Bulldogs, as the kickoff coverage unit for the Gamecocks was almost non-existent as well.
Being a team captain, Matthews was asked what his feelings were regarding the performance of the defense and kickoff coverage units. Matthews said, "I don't know. I was shocked, but we are going to correct all those mistakes this week getting ready for Florida Atlantic."
It was surprising to see such a drastic swing in defensive performance by the Gamecocks. The defensive showing against UGA was reminiscent of the lack of focus and effort that has plagued Gamecock football for many years. Matthews acknowledges that mistakes were made this past Saturday, but he also believes this team is different from those in the past, and will pick itself up and fight.
"In previous years we really haven't been a complete team, but this year our attitude is coming together. We've got a lot of strong team chemistry, everybody is on the same page, and everybody is hungry," Matthews emphasized.
This new attitude, this new culture of Gamecock football has been dubbed the "New Carolina" by the players and coaches. Matthews gave some insight into this new attitude when he said, "The "New Carolina" is pretty much self explanatory. We're just bringing new things to this program. We've got a different attitude about things this year. Everybody is on the same page. We're approaching this season differently this year. Of course we have made mistakes, but there is still a lot of room for improvement."
The need for making improvements didn't just surface after the Georgia game this past weekend; in fact, it was a point of emphasis throughout the entire offseason. Matthews said there were a lot of areas that the Gamecocks needed to improve in.
"There was more than just one thing, but Coach Spurrier, he got that corrected and he's going to leave it up to the captains to lead by example and get this team to where it needs to be.
"We've been working hard all summer. Obviously we made a few mistakes. We're not perfect. What doesn't kill us makes us stronger, so we're going to learn from this experience and come stronger the next game."
Matthews realizes what his role is as a team captain, and his attitude and actions on and off the field reflect such an understanding. After learning that Spurrier may place him back on the kickoff coverage team this week, Matthews embraced that possibility with a team-first attitude.
"If I get the opportunity to be on special teams again, I'm going to try and play it the best way I can, and contribute to the team as much as I can," he said. "I'm going to try and contribute to my team as much as possible. If he wants me to go to kickoff, that's fine with me. Whatever it takes for us to win."
That type of attitude and selfless commitment is something this Gamecock football team is trying to establish across the board. It has definitely taken some time, but slowly, those players who aren't willing to conform to this new attitude are leaving the program.
It is Matthews' attitude and example, and others like him that is going to make a "New Carolina" possible.
Just as Matthews is a role model for many of the underclassmen on the Gamecock football team, Matthews claims he has his role models as well.
"Well, in previous years Eric (Norwood) has taught me a lot from me just being a freshman and not knowing a lot, to each day learning a little bit more. (He taught me) me a thing or two, getting to the quarterback, also playing on the field, off the field, he's just been a big influence on me.
"Eric has given me a few hints. He's stressed playing full speed. If you play full speed and happen to make a mistake, if you're playing full speed maybe you can correct yourself."
Matthews readily admits that it will be a welcome sight to return to the friendly confines of Williams-Brice Stadium for the first home game of the season this Saturday night.
"The first home game, I'm excited about it," he said. "We have our fans behind us. It's our first home game, and I'm excited about it."
He also recognizes just how great the fan base is for South Carolina football.
"The fans, that's one of the reasons I came here. The fan support is just unbelievable. I've been a lot of places, but there is no place like it in the world. I love it here."
As for the upcoming game this Saturday with Florida Atlantic and the rest of the season, Matthews has a sound understanding and perspective as to how this Gamecock team should move forward.
"We're going to take it one game at a time. We're going to approach each game with a really good game plan. With 83,000 Carolina fans behind us, we're really hard to beat."
Not only will the Gamecocks be hard to beat because of the great fan support they have, but because of the attitude and commitment Matthews vows to display the rest of the year as a team captain and a team leader.
"To me, I don't care. Whatever it takes for us to win. I am going to try and do my best to contribute."
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