Welcome back to the Red and Purple Interview! I had the absolute pleasure of talking with former Linfield great, Tyler Matthews about his standout career at quarterback for the ‘Cats. It’s the most in-depth interview to date and a fantastic read for any Linfield Faithful. Tyler was not only a great player but is a fantastic person that makes Linfield all that much more special. A big thanks for Ty for being so open and such a great interview. Go ‘Cats!
(Wildcat 11) Let's go back to 2001. You're a Redshirt Sophomore and going into fall camp the quarterback position is wide open after Curt Musser graduated in 2000. You and Freshman Blake Kluse are in a tight battle for the job. You actually start the first two games of the year with a win over Whittier but then came the dreaded game down at Southern Oregon where the 'Cats were shut out 29-0. At that point the staff went with Blake exclusively in the next game vs PLU where the 'Cats dropped a close game 31-20. So this young group is 1-2 and Linfield heads down to Menlo where the Oaks were currently ranked #9 in the nation.
The team is struggling to be productive and the 'Cats are down 27-9 in the 3rd quarter and Coach inserts you in the line-up to try to spark the team and next thing you know you're throwing 3 huge touchdown passes and lead the 'Cats to a great 30-27 come from behind victory and the job was yours.
Can you recall how you felt headed into camp that year and did you ever doubt yourself after getting benched after the SOU game? I know you and Blake were very supportive of each other but what was the competition like? Also, what happened during that Menlo game that made everything click for you and the offense?
(Tyler Matthews) I would say that coming into camp in 2001, I felt "fairly" confident. I had a decent year the year before, and learned so much about being a quarterback from Musser. He and I became pretty close during his last year, and he was an awesome guy to learn from. He loved playing the game, was a phenomenal athlete, and all the guys rallied around him. I remember telling my parents after his senior year, "I'll never be as good as that guy." What most people probably don't realize about me is, I really wasn't all that special coming out of high school, and had always struggled with confidence. I had good fundamentals and understood the game, but I ran a 6-flat 40, and could bench only 185 (that is no joke). The best I did in high school was 2nd team all league, and as a team, our best year was 6-3. Confidence was a big struggle for me coming into Linfield.
I doubted everything about myself after getting benched. I honestly felt after the SOU game that Blake was the better QB. I remember missing a Friday meeting after the 9/11 catastrophe, and Coach calling me into his office and asking me if I still wanted to play the game. Nothing felt right at that point. Blake got beat up during the first half of the Menlo game, and I think he may have had a minor concussion by half-time. Coach came over to me late in the third quarter, hit me in the forehead with his play sheet, and said, "Warm up." I honestly can't tell you what changed in me, or how in the world I overcame all the self-doubt I was dealing with, but for the first time in my life, I went out like I had nothing to lose and played football. It's one of the few times in my life I honestly felt like God picked me up off the ground. He just showed up that day. There is really no other way to explain it. That, and I had Justin Hubbard on my team. Marcus Ward caught the winning touchdown, but the funny part was James Yen was wide open down the field and should have been the one I threw the ball to. Yen is another guy that never got enough credit for what he did on the field. He was one of the smartest football players I'd ever played with.
As for Blake and I, over the course of that year, we became really close. I would not have had the success I did if it weren't for him. He accepted his role, and was right beside me every day that year and the years to follow. I wish more people could know his story, and know the sacrifices he made to never get any of the spotlight.
(WC11) After that win versus Menlo the team really took off. We've talked to Daryl Agpalsa in the past about the 2001 playoff snub after winning 6 straight to finish 7-2 and tied for the NWC title but how satisfying was 2001 for you on a personal level after you finish the year strong and being at the helm of a team that was playing such great football?
(TM) It was a good feeling, for sure. Again, for the first time in my career, I felt like I was starting to play to my potential. The best part was I knew we would only get better. We finished the year as well as a team could, and the talent we had coming back was nothing short of special. I felt really bad for the seniors that year though. I think with the level we were playing at, we could have gone pretty deep into the playoffs. That said, the exciting part really was knowing the momentum we had going into the next year.
(WC11) People that have followed this blog know I'm a huge "mark" for the 2002 team. That team had such great chemistry, toughness, and passion. Can you talk about the vibe coming into that year and did you know that this was going to be a special team?
(TM) I somewhat answered this question with my last response, but I would have to agree with you on the "mark" for that '02 team. We flat out ran over people that year. Now before I get into this, I hope you will allow me to talk about the 2003 team following this question. I hold a special place in my heart for that team, which I'll get into later. That said, the 2002 team probably was the best team I've played on, and no doubt was one of the best in Linfield history. Our offensive line was flat-out dominant, and I believe there wasn't a team in the country that we couldn't handle on the line. David Russell was the equivalent of 2 players on the field. I could write a book about that guy, not only about the player he was, but the man he was. We all joke about how he is up in Alaska now, killing polar bears with his bare hands. I remember after the Whitworth mud fest, and his 56 carries for 240 yards or whatever, the next morning he was in the weight room doing power cleans. Enough said.
I think everyone knew that 2002 team was special. There was a buzz around campus that hadn't been there for many years. Everyone knew it. When we lost to St. John's in the Quarters, it felt surreal. Taking no credit away from the Johnnies and their program, we just didn't click that day, and that was the only game we did that year. It was really unfortunate. But our team had the chemistry, talent, the entire package to win it all, I felt. It was one of the most balanced teams you could imagine, both in terms of football and the quality of guys. I loved that team. Now can I talk about 2003?
(WC11) OK, OK of course we can talk about 2003. It was an incredible season for sure and while people knew the 'Cats were going to be competitive, folks were not 100% sure just how good this team was going to be. The team lost David Russell, Luke Bucheitt, Mike Cooney, Daryl Agpalsa, Ricky Gaspar, and a host of great seniors from that 2002 team. The '03 team featured a crop of younger and less experienced offensive players named Casey Allen, George Carter, Brandon Hazenberg, Brad McKechnie, and Thomas Ford. Going into the season did have any idea just how good these guys were going to be for you and the offense especially after loss of that great '02 senior class? You had to feel that it was going to be hard to replace all that was lost in 2002.
(TM) Like I said, the 2003 squad holds a special place in my heart. But ok, Wildcat11, if you really want, we can talk about your '02 squad some more. The funny thing about this question is, I remember Kluse and I going for the famous Friday Bento before our first game against Redlands, and he asked the same thing: "How good to you think we are this year?" I can't remember exactly how I answered him, but I remember thinking that if we got through Southern Oregon, I thought we could go undefeated again. But you're right: that 2002 team was hard to beat. When you lose a senior class like that, especially from a leadership aspect, you wonder how you can compare. I guess you hope you can follow their lead and keep building on what they left behind, and hope you can make them proud.
(WC11) So the 'Cats open '03 with a blasting of Redlands and then was one of the most incredible football games I've EVER witnessed when Linfield travel down to Southern Oregon for a great 47-42 win. There was so much back-and-forth and so much offensive fire power on both sides of the ball. You had a wild game in throwing for over 347 yards and 5 touchdowns. I swear it felt like you threw about 20 deep balls that game. Tell us about that game, just how important was that win for the '03 team, and can you ever recall another game where you felt that on-target with your deep ball and that it seemed like you couldn't miss?
(TM) It's funny: a game that was considered "wild" was just another day at the office for one Brett Elliott! What can you do? In all seriousness, going back to that Southern game, it was flat-out fun. A couple things that stand out for me: first, you have to take into consideration the emotion for our team in winning that game after losing our emotional leader, Ray Lions, the game before. That was such a heavy, heavy blow for Ray and for the team. But his attitude following his injury carried us into the Southern game, and I believe it showed on the field. Ryan Boatsman had a cell phone in the huddle right after the game ended, and called Ray with all of us right there. We yelled, "We love you Ray," and that capped the night. There aren't words to describe what that game meant to our team.
The second point that I think defined us in that game was actually a penalty. If I remember right, we had something like 2:30 left on the clock in the 4th quarter, and we were down (again) 42-40. Coach called another deep ball, and I hit Casey Allen in the end-zone, only to have it called back on offensive holding. For some reason, I glanced real quick at the guys huddling up, particularly Marcus Ward, and I knew right then we would win. No one's head was down. In fact, nobody really said anything. We just huddled up, got the play, and played football. We scored a couple plays later on a fake quick screen to score what would be the game winner. Now here's the cool part: I don't think a single player or coach on the Wildcat sideline let their guard down until Ty Smith picked off (SOU’s QB) Woodward's last pass. I think everyone was so focused and so into the game that we believed it would take 60 minutes to win, and it did. I do believe that game was a defining moment for Linfield football over the next few years, considering all that went into it and the expectations that had been placed on us. Looking back on it for me, personally, it was the best game of my career. I had a few other games that were better statistically, but overall, this game defined me as a quarterback. It was fun.
(WC11) On a side note, one thing I was curious about is how much liberty did the coaches give you on the field in terms of audibles and allowing you to gamble on the field? Where you encouraged to change plays if you saw a favorable match-up?
(TM) This is another funny story. We had a game plan that keyed on one of Southern's linebackers: depending on what side of the field he lined up on, we knew if they were bringing pressure. So every time he lined up on the "wrong" side, Coach told me to check the play and throw a quick pass. One of Southern's corners started to pick up on one of my audibles and jump my throws, almost picking me off at least once. So late in the first half, during a time-out, Coach gave me the green light to go after him. On the next play, sure enough, their linebacker showed pressure, so I audibled to a hitch-and-go for Josh Armstrong. The Southern corner bit hard, Josh scored, and Coach showed us the tape after the play of this corner walking back to his sideline hitting himself in the side of the helmet. We owned him from that play on. I think that game gave Coach more confidence in me, particularly in my play-calling on the field.
Fast forward to St John's that year: we were down 7-0. We were stalled around mid-field, it was third down and long, and I was looking to the sidelines for the play. The play clock was running down, I could see Loce talking into his headphone, so I walked into the huddle and said, "Screw it. Let's test them. Ford Dagger." I hit Casey down the right sideline, and the very next play, Loce called the same thing to the other side of the field, and we scored. Pretty cool.
(WC11) So after that win over SOU, the 'Cats continue to roll for the remainder of the regular season and finish 9-0. Playoff start and once again Linfield downs Redlands (bet you never tired of beating them) and then you had the rematch with Wartburg. However, the powers that be deemed Maxwell field to beat up to play so they move the game down the Willamette. The game was a thriller where Wartburg tied the game at 20 each with 1:21 left in the game and then you lead a drive to set up the Garret Wales game winning field goal with no time remaining. The first play of that last drive was a quick fade to Casey Allen that broke for 35 yards and put the ball deep in Wartburg territory. Was that play called in the huddle or was that changed at the line once you saw the match-up? The offense did struggle in the 2nd half of that game but did you know the Offense felt confident on that last drive? Also, did have any doubt that Garret was going to miss the kick?
(TM) I never tired of beating Redlands. As for the Wartburg game, that quick fade to Casey was something we had worked on all year. Throwing it high and behind Casey made it really difficult for anyone to defend, especially on big guys like George and Casey. Another great story: I had the privilege of sitting with our coaches in the press conference following the game. One of the reporters asked the question, "That fade route to Casey Allen looked like the ball was underthrown. Tyler, talk about that play and Casey Allen's ability to make the big play." Loce grabbed the mike and said, "It was designed that way. Tyler didn't underthrow that ball. He put it right where I told him to, and Casey did what he does best." Thanks Coach. All those receivers-- George, Casey, Kech, Haze, Army-- made my job pretty easy. All I had to do was get it out there (in some cases, throw it as far as I possibly could), and they would come down with it.
Our offense did struggle in the second half. Actually, late in the first half, I took a hit on the sideline that did something to my throwing shoulder. The following week, I didn't throw a hard ball until Friday in Minnesota. After that, going down to Mexico (to play in the Aztec Bowl), I couldn't throw until Wednesday, and even then it was still really sore. I'm telling you, God showed up for me during the St. John's game and allowed me to play, because I was pain-free during the game on only some ibuprofen, yet my shoulder immediately hurt when the game ended. I was very blessed. As we did all that year, though, during the Wartburg game, we held to our motto, "Believe." No one doubted. Garret Wales, as funny a guy as he was, was able to hit the big kicks. I had no doubt he would make that kick and win it for us, but you have no idea how happy I was to get off the field that day. I know this is a QB thing to say, but I wanted no more of what Wartburg was dishing out.
(WC11) As a fan I can still remember headed out the Minnesota when Linfield played Saint John's in the west region finals again. Two undefeated and top ranked teams going head-to-head in the freezing cold and it was another classic game. Really it was anybody game until SJU was able to get a lead late to only hold off a last minute rally from the 'Cats . We all know SJU went on to win the National Title a few weeks later but is there any consolation knowing that Linfield was the only team to push SJU to the limit during the post-season and just came up a few yards short of going to Salem, Va.?
(TM) There is no consolation for not winning a game, let alone a national title. Again, our motto was "Believe", and that was what made that 2003 team so special for me. The group of seniors we had that year, as far as leadership and character goes, I don't think will ever be matched. Of course I am biased, I admit, but the way we all hung together and literally believed we could win it all made that year the best year of my football life. I will say this, to any Johnnies out there who might read this: if I had to choose a team to lose to, as much as I hate losing, I would choose St Johns. Hands down they were the classiest football team I ever played against. They didn't help you up after plays like some teams do, didn't have any weird chants or circus acts, but they came to play and let their play do the talking. No trash talk, no cheap shots, nothing. I suppose I am speaking from one side of the field-- I would be curious to know how our D felt-- but again, they were fun to play against. But you have no idea how hard it is to lose to the same team, by the same amount, in the same game two years in a row. I will stop there.
(WC11) I can understand that. Let's move on from that subject and step back and look at the big picture of your career. You went 27-3 as a starting quarterback, completed 58% of your passes (468 of 808), 2nd all-time in school history with 6,798 yards passing, 2nd all-time in school history with 69 passing touchdowns, Linfield male athlete of the year (03-04), Aztec Bowl selection, and your senior year you were named a 1st team All-American by the AFCA. While I understand that no individual can accomplish all of this without great teammates this is a pretty remarkable resume considering, as you stated, you were full of self-doubt as a sophomore. After your senior year if you could have gone back in time and shown Ty Mathews of 2001 what was in front of him as a quarterback, would he have believed it? Along with that, tells us what that resume means to you as a Wildcat?
(TM) With the history that Linfield Football carries, and the endless list of amazing athletes, to be considered a part of that history really is special. I'm gonna be brutally honest here. Going to Virginia in 2004 to watch the Cats win the national championship was somewhat hard. I felt like those guys accomplished something that we couldn't. Yet it was overwhelming to be able to watch all those guys that we had played with a year before win that game, and see a joy on their faces that you can't see anywhere else. They were the best in the country in 2004, and that squad will go down in history as one of the most electrifying teams ever. I think that anyone that played or coached the years before, all the way back to the beginning of the streak, could feel like we had a hand in that championship. That's what means the most to me. I remember Chris Boock and a bunch of those guys coming over to the stands after the Championship to shake our hands. To those of us there, that meant the world to us. It made us feel like we were a part of it.
(WC11) After graduation you went abroad to play football in Europe for a couple of seasons and played for the Franken Knights. I take it living abroad and playing football was a unique experience. What kind of impact that did that time in Germany and Europe have on your world view and what was the football like?
(TM) I'll give you one sentence on what the football was like: Wartburg came over there to play us, of all the teams, and absolutely demolished us. Enough said. But as far as the experience goes, it would take me months to write about it. The cool part about the Wartburg game was, afterward, a bunch of their players came out on the town with us and hung out all night. They remembered Bertsch and I, and though they were pretty upset still that we beat them two years in a row, they were all super cool. One of them thought my wife, Molly, was German, and tried to buy her drinks! It was great.
I came away from that time with some friends that I will have for life. One of my lineman from Holland has been over here to the States four years in a row for Thanksgiving. I would strongly encourage anyone who is just graduating, or who wants a change of pace for a few months, to go live abroad. It opens up your views on everything. We were able to travel a lot, and meet so many different kinds of people. Although for the most part we were very well received, there were a few skeptics of having Americans come play with them. I vividly remember a guy named Grundman (pronounced GROOND-man) who was our best defensive lineman. The first day of practice, I tried to say hello and introduce myself in German. He wanted none of it. I don't think he talked to me for the first half of the season. He warmed a bit as the season wore on, and then after the season was over, he and 4 or 5 other guys took a "holiday", as they call it, down to Italy. Molly and traveled around a bit before meeting them down there at the beach. I found myself playing catch with him in the shallow surf of the Mediterranean, and he told me,"You know, in the beginning, I thought you were another stupid American who just wanted to make nice and play cool. Now I know you are a good person." There is story after story of experiences like that for Molly, Bertsch, and I. It was hands down one of the greatest experiences of my life.
(WC11) I know you have been back in McMinnvile for a few years now. Can you catch us up on what you are up to now? Have you started a family and what are you doing with yourself professionally?
(TM) Molly and I are new parents. Our daughter Maya is almost 6 months old now, and holy smokes does it change your world. It is the greatest thing you could imagine. I know I've written a small novel in this interview, but Molly does a great job keeping our friends and family up-to-date on our blog. If there are any wives out there reading this, check it out: www.lifeonbirchstreet.blogspot.com. I currently work for Wells Fargo in the McMinnville branch as a Licensed Banker, handling accounts and some investments. I enjoy it very much. I am not sure what my long-term plans are-- being a dad for now-- but life is great for us. We have so many great friends and family in the area, and I can't imagine trying to raise a little baby girl without that support. I am a firm believer in the old saying, "It takes a village to raise a child." We are very grateful to all those around us helping with our little one.
(WC11) For the past couple of years you serve in the capacity of team Chaplin. Can you tell us how that came about and what specifically is the role of the team Chaplin at Linfield? People around the program know that you are a man of faith and very spiritual. How big of a role and influence did your faith have on your days as a football player at Linfield and now as a member of the McMinnville community?
(TM) I was driving down to interview with Mark Wickman, a linfield grad who is a CFP here in Mac, when HD Weddell called me on my cell. Anyone who knows H knows the guy doesn't need any kind of introduction. He was the Chaplain for over 20 years, and during my time at Linfield, I missed one chapel before the home games. His stories, and his way of getting us fired up before the games, were unlike any pastor I'd ever listened to. He called to tell me he was moving away, and he wanted me to take over as chaplain. My initial response was, "No way." Since that time, my role is still evolving. I'm not sure how God wants me to do it just yet, but currently I talk to the guys before each home game, and try and be available when life happens off the field. It's an awesome way to stay involved, and the honor of following in H's steps is indescribable.
My faith is the only thing that kept me intact during that hard stretch in '01, and the only reason I finished school. God reminds me so often of what is really important, and always finds a way to humble me just when I think I'm starting to fill my shorts out a little. It is my hope that my story can resonate with some of the guys that come through this program, and maybe even carry with them once they're gone. I wrote Matthew 28:20 and John 3:27 on my wristbands for every game. I will let you look those up!
(WC11) Well Ty, we've covered a wide scope of materials and that you for taking part in the interview. If you had one piece of advice to share with a current Wildcat that might be reading this interview, what would you say?
(TM) Enjoy the ride, and don't take any of it for granted. Whether you fail to make it out of training camp your freshman year, your career ends with an injury, or you play all 4 years, the day you hang them up will be the day you miss football the most. You will miss every part of it, from the locker room to the practices in the freezing rain to the smell of game day. Football will be the best classroom you will have at Linfield, because of the way it is taught and the values that are instilled, and the lessons it teaches you from failure to success to not getting your way. But the key is, you have to buy in. You will get nothing out of football, or anything in life for that matter, if your whole heart is not in it.
Tell us your funniest on the field story of you career?
I was a sophomore backing up Musser. We were in Puyallup taking on the Lutes, and Muss and crew took it to them pretty good that day. Coach put me in late in the game, and we drove down to the one-yard line. I was pretty nervous, but playing ok, and I walked up to the line of scrimmage. It was third down, I think, and I started my cadence. Out of my right earhole, I hear someone saying rather sternly, "Ty, check to Badger." 'Badger' was a play designed to our fullback right up the middle, if I remember right. Not sure what to do, I stuck with the play-call and continued with my cadence. The next thing I know, Luke Bucheit comes out of his stance on the right side of the line, takes two steps toward me, and literally screams, "Ty, CHECK BADGER!!!" After wetting my pants, I called timeout, walked over and and asked Loce if I could call Badger, because Buch was going to kill me if I didn't. He said ok, and we scored. Among many other things, I am thankful to my coaches for saving my life that day.
Your favorite all-time Linfield Wildcat?
That's kind of a no-brainer. Anyone who puts this together and is known as Catdome Alumni would have to be my favorite. Actually, I remember you being on the field the first day of practice my freshman year, and Curt Musser saying, "Want to know what an All-American looks like? Right there. That guy is the real deal."
In all honesty, there are too many to name. This might seem kind of, uh, brown-nosy, but probably one of the guys I respected the most was Blake Kluse. Again, no one knows how supportive he was of me throughout my career. Most guys, after losing their starting spot, would have hung 'em up. But not only was he there every day calling plays and helping me read defenses, I think he would say we were genuine friends. We had a cool relationship. And man, we laughed like little kids when we traveled with Muss and his Jim Carey moves. Muss is another one. Gosh, there are just way too many to name, so I'll stop there. I'd have to give some attention to Brodie "Big Play" Unger. He's still around here and hangs out with us and Maya a lot. Quality dude.
Do you like the All-Purple uniforms the 'Cats break out once a year?
I have to be honest: no. However, HUGE fan of the all white. I'm still mad at Marcus Ward for not letting us go all white for the SOU game our senior year. He thought it would be bad luck. However, I do owe that guy my career (he caught the winning touchdown at Menlo), so I can't get too mad. All white is my favorite combo, and I never got to wear it. Those guys look so fast in all white.
If you listen to music before a game what band/artist did you have to listen to?
Ha. I probably shouldn't answer his. In high school, I listened to the usual, Def Leppard, Metallica, AC/DC, etc. It took me until my sophomore year to realize that got me too wound up, so I went the exact opposite. Before games I listened to George Strait and the Braveheart theme songs. Slow and mellow, baby.
Best 40 time?
4.68, twice in a row my junior year. Coach Smith timed me-- he will prove it. I don't know whether that's good or bad, but that's as fast as it got.
What was more fun: I.M. Hoops or I.M. Softball?
IM Hoops, by far. I became a better basketball player in college, just because I allowed myself to have fun and not try and actually be good. I got a little stronger and could throw down every once in a while too, which was fun. The IM hoops at Linfield was always fun and competitive, and everybody played. I definitely miss those nights in the gym. Thanks for letting me do this, WC11. It's been a while since I got to take a trip down this Memory Lane. A big shout-out to all my fellow 2003 seniors. I miss all you guys. Congrats to Ray and Mandy and their new little cub on the way...