Psssssshhhhh, it was one percent! How could Mrs. McNeil-Gordon do this to me? Doesn’t she know I’m Breontae, the big football player. If she would’ve just let me slide, I would be getting ready to play college ball right now.
Those were the agonizing thoughts enveloping former high school football standout, and current sophomore Hornet left tackle Breontae Matthews’ mind. For nearly one year, he patrolled Union Station in Washington D.C. in his starched blue and gray uniform.
Trading his football pads for a security badge was never in his plans, but when his high school grades squandered his once bountiful scholarship prospects, Matthews chose to walk away from football and work a nine-to-five job.
At 6-foot-6 inch and 320 pounds, Matthews physical gifts and talent on the field are undeniable, but growing up off the field is something he had to learn the hard way. Matthews’ crucible of maturity has led him back to the precipice of receiving a big time Division-I football scholarship. His mercurial journey back to football over the past two years is one of his tremendous personal growth off the field and redemption on the field.
Matthews, like countless other star athletes before him thought that his physical gifts and talent on the field would transcend the classroom. That attitude would prove to be problematic when universities starting probing into his academics. Matthews by his own admission, slacked-off in the classroom assuming that the overflowing interest from Division-I colleges he began receiving his junior year would automatically translate into scholarship offers.
Unfortunately though, the opulent interest shown by college football programs that Matthews had taken for granted never actually materialized.
“I had a bunch of Division-I schools coming and looking at me, but after they would look at my transcripts, I would never hear from them again,” Matthews said.
Matthews received an offer from Division-II St. Augustine University in North Carolina, contingent on him passing a chemistry class in summer school to bump up his GPA. He finished the class with a 69 percent grade, but his teacher Mrs. Gordon wouldn’t budge an inch and Matthews lost his offer.
“I asked her if there was anything she could do to give me that one percent and she said ‘no,'” Matthews said.
Bowie State University in Maryland became his last resort. He spent a week on campus enrolling in classes, meeting his coaches and teammates and moved into his dorm.
Then Matthews was hit was some more bad news. It turned out that because his parents had a D.C. address, Bowie State had to charge him a $6,000 out-of-state tuition fee. With no recourse, the Bowie State football coach advised Matthews to attend a junior college for a year and just forget about football.
“I was in all these big all-star games and all these college coaches wanted me, so for [the coach] to tell me to forget about football like that, it really messed me up,” he said.
Disheartened by what seemed at the time like a series of dream-crushing blows, Matthews decided to put the sport he loved on hold and took a job patrolling Union Station in D.C., hanging up his jersey for a security uniform.
The plan was to work for a little while and eventually come back to football.
After a few months of steady paychecks though, Matthews got comfortable in his new position and started to put football out of the picture altogether. He planned on pursuing a career in law enforcement and shed his football persona.
Although, when you’re 6-foot-6- inch and everybody knows you as the big football player, it’s hard to avoid the constant attachment and accompanying reminders.
Those close to Matthews were supportive, urging him not to give up on his dreams and go back to college. Coaches would call him to see how he was doing and ask if he planned on getting back to playing. Matthews coworkers often felt obligated to remind him how time has a way of slipping by, subtly robbing you of your best years.
Then there were all the people that recognized him as he patrolled Union Station, always wanting to know what happened to him and why he swapped uniforms.
One year of watching from a distance as friends and fellow players moved on to play college ball started to eat away at Matthews, one instance in particular stood out to him.
“I saw this real big time player from D.C. down at the station getting picked up, he had just committed to the University of Tennessee, had his whole uniform on and it just hit me,” Matthews said. “I was like damn, I could have been doing that, playing on TV and all that– all my friends used to know me as Breontae the big football player, now when everybody sees me they say, ‘why aren’t you playing football anymore, you’re just a security guard now.’”
With a renewed hunger for the game, Matthews called his former middle school coach Donald Griggs for advice.
“I just called [Griggs] at the right time, the right moment, because he had just scheduled a visit for his son to come out and visit [Fullerton College],” Matthews said.
Matthews took that fate-altering flight with Griggs and his son, former Hornet quarterback Chris Jeffries, to come meet the FC football coaches and try out for the team.
Cracking a smile, Matthews admitted that when Griggs told him about “this JUCO program in Fullerton,” he didn’t realize JUCO was short for junior college. He was just excited to play football again.
Over the past two seasons, Matthews has evolved into one of the most heavily sought after offensive tackles in all of community college football.
Hornet quarterback Trey Tinsley thinks that Matthews is one of the top three lineman he has ever been around.
“It’s unbelievable to see how he can drive one guy off the ball and then work to the next level, hit that guy back and have him on his heels, then hit the next guy and burry him,” Tinsley said.
Head coach Tim Byrnes and offensive line coach Trevor Watters agree that Matthews is one of the top 10 lineman they have ever coached.
“Breontae is top 10 and that’s saying something, because we have sent probably 40 guys off to Division-I,” Byrnes said.
Byrnes said that he was already skilled physically when he came to Fullerton, but his technique was raw. He also talked about how much he has matured over the last two years, especially in the last couple months.
Perhaps the most impressive of Matthews’ accomplishments has been the way he changed his perspective on how everything turned out.
“I’m really proud of Bray,” said his father Marcus Matthews. “Him lasting out there [in Fullerton] by himself really showed me that he matured.”
Matthews has come to appreciate all of the obstacles he has faced, even his chemistry teacher, Mrs. McNeil-Gordon, who wouldn’t bump his grade up. He realizes now that if she would have let him slide, maybe he wouldn’t have learned the lesson and been in the position he is in now.
“If ever see her again, I’m going to sit down and thank her to tell her how much I appreciate what she did for me,” Matthews said.
Matthews’ journey has certainly come full circle. He currently has a 2.7 GPA, so when schools come inquire now, they stick around. So far he has received offers from seven Division-I programs, including Arizona State, Iowa State and UNLV.
“My recruitment since coming to Fullerton is 100 times better than it was in high school,” Matthews said.
Byrnes is confident that Matthews will have at least 30 scholarship offers before the end of the year.
What a difference two years can make. With all of the offers coming his way now, Matthews has a whole new problem on his hand– deciding which college to commit to.
Matthews said that one important factor in his choosing a school is developing a relationship with the team’s offensive line coach. Matthews credits his relationship with Watters as a big reason for his success since coming to Fullerton.
“Coach Watters has had a really positive impact on me since I’ve been out here, whether he knows it or not,” Matthews said. “I can talk to him about anything– he will tell me when I mess up, but he will tell me when I play well too.”
Matthews is still weighing out his options and has some campus visits to make before deciding which university to attend. This week he will be traveling to Iowa State University for his first official visit.
“Sometimes you hear stories like [Breontae’s] and you just shake your head, like what if he never came back, where would he be– now within the next year he will have his college education paid for,” TInslely said.