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Naysayers, friend motivate Matthews

Published: Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Updated: Tuesday, August 31, 2010 19:08


Georgia State Sports Communication

Matthews at the Georgia State football practice facility.

At first glance, Demarius Matthews isn't what you might think. Along with an assortment of tattoos, Matthews carries around an intimidating blank stare, one that could easily be taken as "Back off." Matthews, or "D," as his friends call him, is quick to point out that his stare belies his true nature.

"People always think that I'm a mean guy, [but] I like meeting new people, making new friends," Matthews said.

"I want people to know that I'm not a mean guy."

As a freshman at Georgia State, Matthews is about to be an integral part of the biggest thing that has ever happened at the school: the inaugural football season. But Matthews isn't just about the gridiron. Behind the facemask is a young man with an intriguing story to tell.

Matthews was raised just down the street in Adamsville, Ga. As a child, Matthews was a bit of a troublemaker. In an effort to focus some of his energy into something positive, his aunt suggested putting him into a football program.

Starting at around age 6, Matthews began playing football for recreational teams in Forest Park, just a few miles south of Georgia State's campus.

Matthews discovered that he's a natural athlete, excelling at baseball and track as well

But it wasn't until he arrived at Mceachern High School in Cobb County that Matthews decided he wanted to focus his efforts on football, although he continued to run track in the off-season to stay in shape.

People have reasons for why they love what they do. For Matthews, it's the contact that drives him.

"I guess it's because we get to hit people and not get in trouble for it," Matthews said.

Matthews speed had him playing running back until his tenth-grade year, when McEachern coaches opted to use his speed and athleticism at a completely different position: cornerback.

"Defense is where it's at," Matthews said.

Two of Matthews' favorite players are James Davis of the Cleveland Browns and the Boffalo Bills' standout CJ Spiller. Another one of his idols is "Neon" Deion Sanders, a big part of why Matthews would like to go on and play for the Dallas Cowboys one day.

Matthews does not forsake his local team, however, and is quick to profess his love for the Atlanta Falcons.

"I'm a dirty bird fan," Matthews said.

"I've been down since Jamal Anderson."

Like many football players his age, or football players in general, Matthews has several tattoos. In total, the count is at nine, and he's not done yet. On his left arm you'll find one to honor his grandmother, who is a survivor of breast cancer.

On his right arm above his elbow is a tribute to his mother and right above that, there is a tribute to his best friend, Rajaan Bennett.

Matthews met Bennett in eighth grade at Tapp Middle School in Cobb County, of course, through football. But it wasn't until one day after a track meet in ninth grade that they became close friends. One day at Matthews' friend's Marcus's house, Matthews and Bennett discovered that they had a lot in common, including the fact that Bennett's father once worked for Matthews' uncle. From that point on, the three were inseparable.

"We could sit in a room and look at each other without saying anything and know exactly we're talking about, and [burst] out laughing," Matthews said.

"We just had that connection."

"Rajaan was the [most] mature out of all of us, like if Marcus and I wanted to do something stupid, he would tell us no," Matthews said.

"He was like the person watching over [us]."

On Feb. 18, 2010, Matthew's close time with Bennett would come to a devastating halt.

That Thursday morning around 2:30, Bennett's mother's boyfriend, Clifton Steger, shot and killed Rajaan before taking his own life after police had already arrived on the scene.

Just days before, Bennett signed to Vanderbilt at the same signing party with his teammate and best friend Matthews.

"We were just talking about [the day before] how people die for stupid reasons, for no reason at all…as far as drugs, or someone being jealous."

The morning after that conversation around 6, Matthews found out that his best friend had died. One of Matthews' coaches, Coach Tarkley, called him, clearly in distress, saying, "Tell me it ain't true "D", tell me it ain't true."

After asking what the coach was talking about, Tarkley finally responded, "Rajaan died."

Matthews was immediately in denial, even after a phone call from another teammate, telling the friend, "He's probably at his house chilling."

The tragedy still not registering, Matthews even attempted to call Bennett on his cell phone, but it wasn't until he received a phone call from Kyle Hockman, the head coach at Mceachern, that Matthews realized his best friend was gone.

"After that point I couldn't deny it [anymore]," Matthews said.

"I just started crying."

Matthews was heartbroken after the passing of his close friend, missing school for almost a week, and he wasted no time getting the tattoo, going the day after the shooting. But Matthews doesn't let Bennett's death bring him down. In fact, he says he uses him as "motivation."

"I know if he was here he wouldn't let me quit on a play, he wouldn't let me stop," Matthews said.

"I'm doing all this for him, everything he couldn't accomplish, I'm going to do for him. I made a promise to myself that I'm gonna look after his [mother], too. I gotta make sure she's straight. I'm [going] to make it.'

Matthews will be taking the field with a lot to prove, to himself and to his friend Rajaan. But he will also use the naysayers as motivation.

"We're so ready…we let our haters be our motivators," Matthews said.

"We're taking the field to prove all the doubters wrong. In football, you never know what could happen between those two white lines."

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