The scene: Drill to simulate a kickoff return sending two athletes screaming full speed at one player.
Main character: D.J. Matthews.
Script instructions: Matthews sprints full speed to his right, causing the defender to over-commit, then stops on a dime. With the other defender closing in, Matthews spins off of him and then accelerates to the end zone as the crowd goes wild.
The Score: “Stir Fry” by Migos.
When I saw the clip of Jacksonville native D.J. Matthews, that’s all that I could think of, “Stir Fry” – leaving defenders all mixed up and served on a platter like the popular Chinese dish. It’s why his highlight films have so many hits.
The kid has literally done this since he was 4-years-old says his dad and coaches from Sweetwater, the Pop Warner factory on Jacksonville’s west side that is known for producing tons of the area’s top prospects.
“Yes Sirrrr…since Tiny Mite (football)…everybody knew him from Pop Warner and every year people always said he was too small to do what he was doing on the next level,” D.J. Matthews father, Dakarai, told me. “But he not only did it, but got better every year.
“From Tiny Mite, to junior peewee, to peewee, to junior midget, to midget, to high school. And now we’re hearing the same thing in college.”
I won’t gas you up and lie, I was one of those concerned about Matthews’ stature. When I saw him at the first practice this spring, I told him he needed to add one extra scoop of cheese grits to whatever he ate for breakfast to keep his weight up as a joke, but I remember hearing the stories about him making moves on the field.
I’ve come up with a philosophy at Boost Sports Performance, my training center in Jacksonville, “You cannot hit what you cannot catch. Schools don’t recruit Florida boys to lift weights. They recruit us to run and to catch those who run.”
That job has been made difficult on every level D.J. Matthews has played on. He out runs the fastest of the fast. He possesses something that is not able to be taught and that’s lateral vision, or peripheral vision. He sees the cut, and the move necessary after it, with great anticipation and feel.
This is what has wowed scouts from the jump on a prep level. Once he hit the field as a starter three games into his 9th grade year, he didn’t look back. He hit the camp circuit and attacked the high school gridiron like a young man possessed with a desire to prove everyone that he not only is he big enough, but the stage might not be large enough for him.
It’s obvious what he was able to do at the prep level, but what many didn’t understand was why he wasn’t able to crack the Seminoles line-up last season. The wide receiver position at Florida State is one that hasn’t been treated with fear from the opposition. After Jimbo Fisher was forced to give up some control over the offense last season, it seems like the offense opened.
Insert DJ Matthews.
He saw limited action at wide receiver, making a great touchdown grab against ULM. His greater impact, however, came at punt returner.
The boy can be dangerous as a punt returner.
What he showed in his first real action against Delware State had everybody scratching their heads, “Why hasn’t this guy been returning kicks all year?”
Fast forward to this spring where he’s kept up the momentum he gained from the last few games of the 2017 season. He’s been a spark plug for the offense at practice creating many highlight-quality plays that make you just shake your head.
I literally questioned myself, “Did I really just see that?”
James Blackman-to-Matthews might be an overused phrase by Gene Deckerhoff this fall on the Seminoles Radio Network as D.J. made many highlight plays in the early practices and scrimmage.
What’s most impressive is his ability to take short passes, make people miss, and then out-run angles on his way to the end zone. The play that I think might be the toughest to stop him on would be the jet sweep, especially if it’s coupled with the counter run in this offense, a play that Taggart has run at Oregon and USF.
He can sell the fake so much so that he’s been lit up by defenders a few times even without the ball.
He’s got a lot to live up to in terms of Noles who made a name for themselves out of Jacksonville. Sam Platt, Edgar Bennett, LeRoy Butler and Leon Washington, to name a few, all had great careers as Noles. Could D.J. be that next Duval great? He’s got all the tools to be a threat in the passing and return games.
It’ll be fun for fans to see special teams coordinators actually have to work as No. 29 whips defenders like stir fry.
Article Originally Appeared on Gridiron Now: http://gridironnow.com/d-j-matthews-poised-for-breakout-2018-season-on-offense-and-special-teams