While playing at Southridge High School, Marcus Mathews was a four-star wide receiver recruit, the first out of the state of Oregon to be rated as such by Scout. Now getting his feet wet as a Cougar tight end, the freshman has been a part of an offense and a season that haven't quite gone the way many (including himself) had hoped.
"Yeah, I'm trying to just fine-tune things really and taking extra time to look at film and doing extra things to improve," said Mathews. "I've come in every morning to catch extra balls from the jugs machine. I've been staying after [practice] with James [Lark] and working on catching more balls. It's really about trying to get better and developing position mastery. Really, that's what we're focusing on."
Mathews is self-motivated and willing to do whatever it takes to improve. He's taken personal responsibility, and that's being proved by his effort, actions and personal leadership.
"I'm not sure [if others on offense have taken this approach], but I know I am," said Mathews. "I mean, we have to get better. I know I'm at a key position and we haven't produced there like we should have. I know I have to step up."
Mathews was all business following Tuesday's practice. He was one of the last guys walking off the field, and his stern demeanor was broken only by gasps of air following his extra effort and hard work.
"I can't let being a freshman be an excuse, and maturity is just a mental thing," he said. "I feel that if I can be mature, I can play like a senior. I know I can. I'm just getting in here and putting in extra work so that I can be that player I know I can be."
Although Coach Mendenhall is primarily working with the defense, and Mathews said he was fine with that because of the results, Mendenhall has met with the offense during team meetings.
"Coach Mendenhall just told us to focus on position mastery,” said Mathews. “We all need to master our positions and that's what I'm trying to do. If everyone masters their position and if every guy executes his play, we're going to be great. We have the players already here. We just have to get better execution-wise and do it faster. It's about position mastery and I'm taking it to heart."
Although there are five tight ends that have received playing time, Mathews has received a majority of the pass-catching reps. He's made some plays, but has also dropped a few to the disappointment of fans. While those same fans might not know how hard these players work to improve, it will be music to their ears to know that Mathews is going the extra mile towards doing so.
"Well, I love to hear it the most," Mathews said. "I'm really taking it to heart to be better. I'm not going to make excuses, I'm just going to do whatever I can to get better. This is the only way I know how. I have to be better and be better focused. I have to fine-tune things while learning to improve, and the way I do that is by doing the extra things.
"It's getting into the film room and being assignment-sound. It's usually just one more step in my route and I'm going to break that defender. It's executing perfectly in my blocks without hesitation. It's running perfect routes and getting exactly the right amount of yards in the route and cutting. That is the player I want to be and I'm working hard to be it. I'm taking my personal improvement to heart."
This week the Cougars enjoy a bye week to heal up some bumps and bruises, but a healthy Mathews sees this as an urgent time.
"We have to get better," Mathews said. "If we win these next few games, we're bowl eligible. We have to win the rest of our games, including the Utah game. It might be a bye week, but it's a work week. Like I said, I'm taking it to heart. This is a work week. I'm not hurt, so I can keep working my tail off. We can't rest or take a day off and have to get better to show people what's up. I'm just taking it to heart because I know I can play better. I know I can go harder, so I'm just doing it."
Now, go get it done and go out there and show everyone what's up.