- Sam Khan Jr., ESPN Staff Writer
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- All the way back in July when he was in Hoover, Ala., for the media extravaganza known as SEC media days, Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews saw the overflow crowd that surrounded quarterback Johnny Manziel's podium, fielded questions about Manziel, who was the show seemingly everyone came to see, and offered an amusing thought: he needed a nickname.
Several months after the fact and more than halfway through the Aggies' season, has anybody made progress on finding one for the guy primarily responsible for protecting Manziel's blind side?
"Nah, not really," Matthews said with a smile and a laugh. "It kind of blew over. I'm just doing my thing."
With a talent and personality as prominent as Manziel on the roster, or a receiver as productive and highlight-worthy as Mike Evans has been this season, Matthews' name isn't usually the first to leave the lips of someone talking about Texas A&M football. But if current projections hold true, it's more than likely Matthews will be the first Aggie to have his name called when the 2014 NFL draft rolls around in May.
Several prognosticators have the 6-foot-5, 305-pound offensive tackle as the top player at his position in next year's draft and one of the top 5 or 10 players overall. Matthews, the son of NFL Hall of Fame offensive lineman and Tennessee Titans assistant coach Bruce Matthews, was widely considered to be a potential first-round pick in the 2013 draft but chose to stay in Aggieland for one more season.
After spending the early portion of his career at right tackle, Matthews moved over to left tackle this season and that has helped his draft stock by adding versatility to the list of traits he possesses. He has had to use that versatility of late when the Aggies lost right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi to an injury for the last two games. As a result, Matthews went back to right tackle and left guard Jarvis Harrison filled in for Matthews. The offensive line didn't seem to miss a beat as a result.
"Hopefully I showed I'm versatile and that I can do both," Matthews said. "That's a pretty big benefit. It was challenging too, but coach needed it and wanted me to do it so I was happy to do it."
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin likes to use the term "low maintenance great player," for a select few and Matthews falls into that category. So did Luke Joeckel, who was the No. 2 player chosen in the 2013 NFL draft and is now with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Matthews would love the chance to enjoy a similar fate come next May and is flattered to hear his name discussed among the draft's top players.
"It's really exciting and really humbling," Matthews said. "Just thinking about where I've come from, how far I've come, just playing this position, it's something really special. I'm proud to be [mentioned] in those ranks and hopefully I continue having a good season and finish it up on a positive note and we'll see what happens."
But the senior returned for his final season for several reasons. The chance to play alongside his younger brother, Mike Matthews, who is Texas A&M's starting center this season, was one. The chance to help the Aggies accomplish something special was another. While their ultimate goals of an SEC championship and perhaps a BCS national championship have all but evaporated, there's still plenty for the Aggies to play for.
The adjustment to left tackle hasn't been an easy one for Matthews. Footwork and hand placement are among the biggest things he's had to refine after switching from right to left and he has found that he's facing more elite pass rushers on that side of the formation.
"When you play in the SEC against the quality opponents that we are, really nothing's easy," Matthews said. "Like I said, just going and giving different types of looks on pass rush and stuff like that, I didn't get as much of that at right tackle. But the guys are really good over there on the left side."
On Saturday when the No. 15 Aggies host Mississippi State, it will be the final game in Kyle Field for Matthews and a host of other Texas A&M seniors. They'll close out their season with two road games at LSU and Missouri, so Saturday will mark the last time Matthews and his fellow seniors jog out of the tunnel in front of the 12th Man. Matthews said he has no regrets about his decision to return.
"It's gone by way faster than I ever could have expected," Matthews said. "It feels like maybe a couple weeks ago I made the decision that I was going to stay. Now it's already almost over. I'm going to be excited, proud, going out there for the last time. This school and all the fans have been nothing but good to me and I've enjoyed being at this school and playing so much. I just want to go out there and put on a good show in my last go round at Kyle Field."
621dSam Khan Jr.
680dSam Khan Jr.
785dSam Khan Jr.