The fine line between victory and defeat was in the trenches in Idaho’s first win of the season, last Saturday.
Idaho’s hapless offensive line had conceded 26 sacks in its first four games, all losses, but stepped up Saturday only allowing two sacks in the 26-24 Homecoming victory over Temple. The line play allowed the Idaho offense to blossom for 478 yards, 424 of which came from quarterback Chad Chalich.
Some of the thanks can go to a true freshman who wasn’t supposed to arrive in Moscow until next January.
Steven Matlock made his first start for Idaho last Saturday, culminating a whirlwind two month period for the true freshman from Boise. Matlock stepped in for the injured Dallas Sandberg and stood out on an offensive line that had its best performance of the season.
“Starting a true freshman offensive guard is almost unheard of, that kid is tough I love him. Obviously he is a redhead so he’s tough.” Idaho coach Paul Petrino said.
That toughness played a role in his ability to start as a true freshman. Petrino has repeatedly called for players who are overachievers and give a second and third effort, offensive line coach Jon Carvin said he got that from the new starter against Temple.
“Steve had a couple of minor mistakes where his second effort, third effort actually made up for it,” Carvin said. “Where if someone else would make a mistake and sit there, Steven made a mistake but he was 100 miles an hour, so he was able to cover up those mistakes.”
The Capital High School standout was supposed to grayshirt, meaning he’d enroll in the 2014 spring semester and count toward the signing class of 2014. That was until Idaho coaches placed a phone call to him in the middle of August. There was a change of plans — Idaho needed offensive line depth and it needed it right away.
“He was surprised and scared like anybody would be, and probably felt like he wasn’t ready. He thought he had until January to get into football shape,” said Todd Simis, Matlock’s coach at Capital. “One thing about him is he’s a competitor. Quite honestly, in my opinion, it’s the best thing that could have happened.”
He was at a disadvantage coming in to Idaho more than a week late when the Vandals were in the beginning stages of going over the basics of the offense with the other incoming freshman.
Matlock has been a quick learner.
“Since day one when he’s got here he’s battled and he’s shown toughness and I think that along with now learning, it’s an advanced offense and being able to put together, ‘Okay I do this now, I do this when this happens’ then his toughness has always been the same,” Carvin said.
Matlock’s opportunity to start at a Division I FBS football program was just another step in a three year journey.
His commitment to football started his sophomore year of high school as a starter for the Capital Eagles. Simis said Matlock made a real commitment to the game of football his sophomore year.
“I’d pick those kids up, bring them up to the school to work out and he was just naturally strong, natural in the weight room class. He liked to joke around, he’s got a little nasty streak in him,” Simis said. “But he’d just work and his strength just exploded.”
During that time, Matlock was placed in a position where he felt he had to be the man of his household when his father died, Simis said. Matlock took charge of helping his mother and younger brother.
“I think it made him grow up in a hurry,” Simis said. “Out of that tragedy he got stronger. In a football sense it ended up working out. He became pretty passionate about it.”
While Matlock was growing on the football field, the financial predicament of his family made it difficult for him to expose himself to prospective universities. Simis tried to encourage him to join the camp circuit many athletes use to get noticed by coaches. For the Matlock family that wasn’t feasible.
Still, the coaching staff at Capital was at a loss to why Matlock wasn’t getting recruited. A star on both the offensive and defensive lines, Matlock was named first-team All-State in Idaho’s 5A classification during his senior year.
Coaches noticed, but were too reluctant to pull the trigger. Matlock being 6-foot-2 inches tall instead of just 3 inches taller is what Simis said he heard from most recruiters.
That was until Paul Petrino took over at Idaho and sent Carvin to go scout the kid at Capital. The only thing Carvin needed to know about Matlock was why he was still available.
“We were basically saying the same thing, we were at a loss,” Simis said.
Matlock was preparing for a visit to South Dakota State prior to Carvin’s recruiting trip to Boise. It was the only Division I school, FBS or FCS, that had even fleeting interest in the Capital star. Today, Matlock could be a day away from starting against a top 25 team in the country in FBS.
“He’s strong, very smart, he understands the game for an offensive lineman incredibly well. He always asks the right questions, he’s got some nasty in him, he’s kind of ornery,” Simis said. “Everybody I talked to I told ‘no doubt if you just give him the opportunity somewhere eventually he will play.’ It looks like a lot of these … are going to end up eating crow on it.”
Whether or not Matlock stays in the starting line-up remains to be seen. Sandberg and starting strong tackle Jesse Davis will work their way back into the mix, but Petrino has long maintained that competition in practice will determine the starters.
For now, though, Idaho is glad to have Matlock in the mix when they need him.
“You let the practices speak for themselves,” Carvin said. “If a guy is practicing well and he’s holding his own then he probably deserves a chance.”
can be reached at