Clay Matthews’ burning desire fuels quest for greatness : Packers Insider

Clay Matthews’ burning desire fuels quest for greatness

November 12, 2010 by  
Filed under News

Nov 12, 2010 ~ by Lori Nickel, Journal-Sentinel

~Green Bay — There was a time when Clay Matthews was an undersized player in high school and the underdog in college. And when he was smaller than his counterparts or a backup at Southern California, he developed a real fighter’s mentality.

“Obviously when you’re undersized you have to hold your own and fight and scrap for everything,” said Matthews. “I still play with that mentality.”

In just his second year in the NFL, the Green Bay Packers linebacker has combined that scrapper spirit with a 6-3, 255-pound build, natural talent and relentless motor to lead the league in sacks.

Clay Matthews III and his father, Clay Matthews Jr., are the only father and son to win player of the week awards. Clay Jr. earned it with the Cleveland Browns in 1984 and 1991.

A year ago he was in the running for defensive rookie of the year.

This year, he’s probably a front-runner for the NFL’s defensive player of the year honors and maybe even the league’s overall MVP.

Fans at Lambeau Field began that chant Sunday after Green Bay’s defense destroyed the feeble Dallas Cowboys.

Since Matthews returned three weeks ago from an injured hamstring, the Packers have won all three games and have allowed just seven points in the last eight quarters.

It hasn’t hurt his POY chances that Matthews’ talents have also been on display before a national audience twice during that streak.

Packers cornerback Charles Woodson took the honor a year ago, and it has been a rarity that the same team has proclaimed two different defensive players of the year in consecutive years since the award was instituted in 1971.

Pittsburgh had defensive tackle Joe Greene, cornerback Mel Blount and linebacker Jack Lambert from 1974-’76.

Buffalo had linebacker Bryce Paup in 1995 and defensive end Bruce Smith a year later.

Baltimore had linebacker Ray Lewis in 2003 and safety Ed Reed the next year.

Other than Woodson, Reggie White also won the honor as a Packer in 1998.

If the NFL is surprised by Matthews’ ascension, the player himself is not.

“I truly believed this was going to happen,” he said

He picked up mixed martial arts training in Los Angeles in the summer to try something new. He is a conscientious eater. Half the time he’s not even hungry, but he knows he needs to eat to fuel that motor.

He intends to improve throughout the long NFL season while others may wear down.

“It’s part of the business. To handle the rigors of a 16-game season, I have to continue to ascend,” said Matthews. “Most guys seem to tail off.

“My cardio increased. I dropped my body fat. Overall I just felt more like a violent, physical person. I think I really brought it out this year with my play on the field.”

It’s hard to find a flaw in his game. Even as one star defensive player after another is getting fined for excessive or dangerous tackles, Matthews hits hard and hasn’t really had a questionable call.

“I have never had any as far as helmet to helmet, not even in college,” said Matthews. “I don’t think anybody goes in there trying to permanently injure someone or take them out of the game. It’s tough. On defense, you’re just trying to get him down.

“At the end of the day, you’ve got ‘LT’ downhill at you and you’ve got to think about: head across, wrapping up, drive your feet, just get him down. Any tackle in the NFL is a good tackle.

“I know for me, I’m going to keep doing things my way. Hopefully I don’t get fined or make an illegal hit, but I can’t stop playing the way I do – just relentless, getting after the ball carrier, trying to get him down.

“I’d go for the de-cleater any day.”

As the Packers head into Week 10 enjoying a bye, the defense leads the league with 28 sacks.

Matthews, with 10.5, would love to end the season as the overall sack leader.

“Obviously, I know statistics aren’t everything,” said Matthews. “I’m trying to help my team win. The Super Bowl is what we play this game for. Leading the NFL in sacks is one of those individual achievements, personal goals, that I have for myself. But if we’re not winning games, it doesn’t mean anything.”

Matthews was named the NFC defensive player of the week. He played on another level against the Cowboys: four tackles, including two for a loss, a sack, two passes defensed and a 62-yard interception return for a touchdown.

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