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Feat of Clay

USC College alumnus Clay Matthews III was a first-round draft pick of the Green Bay Packers.

By Pamela J. Johnson
September 1, 2009

It took linebacker Clay Matthews III three training camp practices to work his way into the Green Bay Packers' starting lineup. The USC College alumnus was the fifth person in his family to play football at USC. Left photo courtesy of Green Bay Packers, Trojan photo credit John Pyle.

It took linebacker Clay Matthews III three training camp practices to work his way into the Green Bay Packers' starting lineup. The USC College alumnus was the fifth person in his family to play football at USC. Left photo courtesy of Green Bay Packers, Trojan photo credit John Pyle.

Clay Matthews III has a tough act to follow.

His father, grandfather and uncle played in the NFL. Clay Matthews, Jr. was a Pro Bowl linebacker for the Cleveland Browns and Atlanta Falcons, while uncle Bruce Matthews, an offensive lineman for the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Yet, the younger Matthews’ tough act to follow is his own.

The USC College alumnus had the guts to walk onto the Trojans football team, rather than take a scholarship to a lower-quality program and be guaranteed a starting spot. His father and uncle are All-American Trojan legends. But the younger Matthews earned his way into games, eventually becoming a standout, selected co-special teams player for three seasons.
 
After graduating in 2008, Matthews was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a potential NFL first-round selection. The prediction proved correct when the linebacker became a first-round draft pick of the Green Bay Packers, which traded its second-round pick and both third-rounders to nab him.

So Clay, no pressure, right?

“Most of the pressure has come from the media,” said Matthews, days before the Packers were to open preseason play. “But the pressure the media puts on me is no greater than the pressure I put on myself. I’m the type of player who loves a challenge.”
 
His winning attitude courses through his veins. Matthews of Agoura Hills, Calif., is a third generation Trojan. His grandfather, Clay Matthews, Sr. graduated from USC College in 1955 and his father graduated in 1978 from USC Marshall School of Business. And there’s more. In addition to his uncle, his older brother graduated from USC. Kyle Matthews lettered at safety for the Trojans in the 2003 national championship team.

It wasn’t only about football during Clay Matthews’ undergraduate years, however. Interested in world events, he majored in international relations in the College and minored in business law in Marshall.

“I was born into a football family and I’m very blessed,” Matthews said. “But I wanted to experience something else besides football at USC. I was keeping all the doors and windows open.”

At the USC School of International Relations, he particularly enjoyed learning about the politics of nuclear non-proliferation around the world. That background may have prepared him for a United Nations job.

“Obviously, it’s not the career path I took,” Matthews said. “But at the time, I wasn’t sure whether football would work out for me.”

There is history behind his initial doubt. At Agoura Hills High School, Matthews didn’t start until his senior season, although his father was a coach there. He was 160 pounds until his growth spurt during his senior year.

At USC, Matthews opted to redshirt his first season during which time he grew to his current 6-foot-4 frame. With complete commitment, Matthews blossomed as a Trojan player entering his third year.

He called Pete Carroll an outstanding coach not only for his football mentoring, but also for his work with A Better LA, the nonprofit group Carroll founded committed to transforming Los Angeles.

Gearing up for his first NFL season, Matthews showed no sign of anxiety, although he was still slowed because of a hamstring injury suffered on his pro day.

“I feel like I deserve to be here,” Matthews said in reflection. “I’m not saying that in a conceited way. I’m here because of continued hard work and determination.”
 
Attributes of a true Trojan.