Tyler Matakevich improves across the board

The nation's leader in unassisted tackles last year could be even better as a junior:

Temple linebacker Tyler Matakevich led the country in unassisted tackles last year.

This year, his coaches feel he’ll be better. And one of the biggest reasons is the size of his neck.

right, his neck.

“His neck when I first got there he was 16 ¾ (inches), now it’s 19,” said defensive coordinator Phil Snow. “His weight was 220-222 (pounds), now it’s 234-236. He’s made a lot strides.

“He’s bigger, stronger, faster, starting to learn the defense and offense better. He’s a lot better player … A lot better.”

Asked about the reference to his increased neck size, Matakevich laughed.

“You ask Coach Snow, that’s his big thing,” said Matakevich. “If you’re strong up there, you can’t get hurt.”

Matakevich’s 99 solo tackles (8.8 per game) last year led the country, and 137 total tackles (11.8 per game) ranked second nationally, and that was as a sophomore.

“At the end of the day, it’s a cool achievement, but I came here to win,” said Matakevich. “To not win (going 2-10) was rough. If I could do that and us get to that bowl game, I’d be the happiest kid alive. To not go to a bowl game, I’m not satisfied.”

In just his second year and first full season as a starter, Matakevich became the star of the defense. He was the player filling up the stat sheets – like his 24-tackle log against Idaho – and also became the player answering for the defense to the media after the game.

“He’s become like a coach on the field, become a leader, become a tough guy, become everything you want,” said head coach Matt Rhule. “No one has bought in more than him. I couldn’t even say it was early for him to (lead last year), because he was so ready for it.”

Added Snow: “He gets us lined up now, he’s just a whole different player. There were things I asked him to do at the beginning of last year, I asked him to do and he said ‘Coach, I don’t think I can do that,’ and now he does it and enjoys it.”

Matakevich was lightly recruited out of St. Joseph’s (Ct.) High School and wound up at Milford Academy, where Rhule saw him when he was still an assistant coach. Snow said the Owls might not recruit Matakevich now because he was running a 5-flat 40-time, which is below Temple’s requirements for the position.

“I’m glad we went up to see him play … Playing over-rides everything,” said Rhule. “Now he’s down to 4.7-4.6, so he has it physically as well as the intangibles.”

Matakevich said he still carries the chip on his shoulder as the player who was constantly over-looked until arriving at Temple.

“I knew the speed wasn’t always there, but I had an instinct for the ball, I was just a ball hawk,” said Matakevich. “I couldn’t be any more blessed with my time at Milford, that Coach Rhule saw what I could do and took a shot with me.

“All I ever needed was a shot and I could take it from there. I worked on my speed and got bigger, faster, stronger. Just coming out of high school I didn’t have any offers. In the back of my head, I knew people thought I was too small, not fast enough. I just have to prove all these people wrong and show what I could do.”

The only disadvantage to Matakevich’s development – that increased neck size has required some changes in his wardrobe.

“I needed new dress shirts,” said Matakevich with a laugh. “I had to spend a lot of money on dress shirts.”

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