Q&A: Clay Sr. on Clay Matthews III

We caught up with Clay Matthews Sr. on Saturday. The famous father — a 19-year NFL veteran — talks with equal parts self-deprecating humor and immense pride to talk about his son's rise from undersized walk-on to blue-chip NFL prospect. This is a must-read for anyone who wants to know what drives the Packers' new outside linebacker.

Packer Report caught up with Clay Matthews Sr. on Saturday. Matthews, the father of first-round draft pick Clay Matthews III and a former 19-year NFL linebacker, was in Eugene, Ore., to watch another one of his sons, Casey, play linebacker in Oregon's spring game.

Another Matthews in the NFL pipeline?

"In this job economy, any job they can get is good."

A lot has been made of Clay weighing something like 165 pounds during his junior year in high school. Even he mentioned it and said he wasn't even good enough to start for you, and you were the defensive coordinator. Could you have imagined how his story would have turned out?

No, when you look back and think about it, that was a pretty good job. He hadn't matured yet. He was small, he wasn't very fast and not very strong. Other than that, he was a good kid. As the season went on, he ended up playing more and more. There were some kids who were bigger and stronger and faster, but as the season went on, he showed more and more that he deserved to be out there.

When you were a kid, were there any similarities?

Oh, yeah. I think it was ninth grade, I think I was 135 pounds. I was starting to grow and my knees hurt, my heels hurt and I could hardly run. I was small and slow. So, yeah, gosh, he might have been a year behind me. I would say my sophomore year in high school, I was 160, 165 pounds. His junior year, he was 165 pounds. But the only difference was, he kept getting bigger and faster and I stopped somewhere along the way.

But you did OK, though! He's such a respectful guy. Has he always been that way, and can you at least give yourself some credit for that?

I don't know if you can give me any credit, but he's always been a good kid. He doesn't cause too many problems. We're proud of him, not only for what he's accomplished football-wise so far, which is a pretty good job, but he's a pretty good person and treats people well. We're proud of him for that.

You know, he's had some good coaching, starting with you and then with former NFL linebacker Ken Norton at USC.

I don't know. I coached him and he didn't get a scholarship and didn't get to play, and he went to SC and got some better coaching. They finally turned him into a player. When he got rid of me, he started to take off. He has, looking back at it, gosh, he's had a guy who had played in the NFL in Ken Norton coaching him four of the five years and I coached him before that. Hopefully, we didn't mess it up too bad.

And now he's got Kevin Greene ...

We're excited about that.

When he was a little kid, was he always a football player? Was he 5 or 6 years old and emulating you? What I'm getting at is, has football always been a passion for him?

You know, he didn't play football until we went down to Georgia when I played for the Falcons (from 1994 through 1996). If it was something (the kids) wanted to do, then we'd definitely follow up on it. He started playing in Georgia, and a couple years later when I quit playing, I started coaching him because I wanted to coach him up pretty good and I enjoyed it. It wasn't something that, ‘Hey, you've got to be a football player.' Again, you've probably heard this story, but he didn't have a scholarship offer. It wasn't like he had to go to SC. ‘Hey, if you want to play football somewhere, you don't have to go there because your dad played there and your uncle (Bruce) and brother (Kyle) played there. He said, ‘No, I can go down there and compete with these guys.' That was him. He should get all the credit for it. I was perfectly at peace that, based on his size and where he was at, ‘OK, he's not going be a football player. That's fine. As long as he finds something he likes, we were happy for him.' He went down there and really took the hard route and got it done.

What does that say about him?

That he's hardheaded. I mean, if you look at the odds, it was pretty long, but we always tell him that he was a hardheaded kid. That was his vision and I don't think he wavered from it. He went down there and the first year, he said, ‘Well, if it's going to take five years, I'm going to redshirt.' I don't think the coaches cared if he redshirted. They probably thought he could redshirt for 10 years; he wasn't going to get on the field. He had an opportunity to play and he decided to redshirt. That was his vision and he followed through with it. He started off on kickoffs, and all of a sudden, he's 4 or 5 yards ahead of everybody else making plays. He had a vision and he wasn't going to waver from it. I think that's good.

What was it like spending draft day with him?

It was very exciting. We knew there was a large range on where he would go. There was a lot of speculation. It was so varied, that we didn't have any preconceived notion about when he would go. So, we sat down and tried to enjoy it. When we heard it was Green Bay, we were very excited. Obviously, it's one of the most storied franchises in the NFL. We think it's a good fit with the system they run. We like the idea of Kevin Greene coaching him. The weight coach, Dave Redding, he was one of the guys who finally got me in shape. My brother Bruce knows Ted Thompson and he knows the equipment guys, and he was very flattering in what he had to say. It looks like a great fit, and we're excited about Clay getting in there and seeing what he can get done.

It's only a rookie camp and there not in pads, but Clay just stands out above everyone else. Even someone like me can see that he's just really good.

He's definitely blessed. He went there and he's got a walk-on mentality and grew into a blue-chip body. That's a pretty good package. Some guys have the talent and it's easy. They're much better than everybody else. For him, I don't think he's ever going to forget where he came from and he'll always play with that passion.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook.


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