Despite growing up in a town where wrestling and basketball are king, VCHS senior Devan Matthews’s focus has always been football.
‘As a little kid growing up, everything revolved around football,’ Matthews said. ‘That’s all I wanted to do. I didn’t want to play any other sports.’
It’s an obsession that began in grade school, when Matthews first started watching his older brother, Chris, play for the Vandals.
The opportunity to don a helmet and pads finally presented itself during Matthews’ fifth-grade year, when he first suited up for the VYO program.
Matthews’s passion for the game quickly caught the eye of VCHS head coach John Stout, and according to Stout, it has not waned.
‘One thing you’ve got to say about Devan – he loves the game of football,’ Stout said. ‘I saw that with him down in VYO. He just loved to play.’
That passion for the game – and, no doubt, an eye-opening senior season at VCHS – also got the attention of Eureka College head coach Dan Sullivan.
As a result, Matthews can look forward to playing at least four more years alongside former Vandal teammates Andrew Hall and Drew Whightsil at former president Ronald Reagan’s alma mater.
‘It’s really exciting,’ said Matthews, the starting fullback and leading rusher from last year’s 7-3 VCHS playoff team. ‘I just want to keep going. I’m not ready to give it up yet.’
In addition to getting the opportunity to play with a pair of fellow former Vandals, Matthews said the comfort level he felt visiting with Sullivan and his staff were what sold him on Eureka.
‘They’re real nice people,’ Matthews said. ‘I get along with all the coaches. And all the coaches are fairly young. I think it’s going to be a pretty good fit.’
In turn, Stout feels Matthews will be a good fit for the Red Devils.
‘They don’t run the jet sweep (like the Vandals do), but they give the ball a lot to the fullback,’ Stout said. ‘And their fullback last year was a quick hitter. I think he’ll fit right into their plans.’
After showing flashes of brilliance in a limited ball-carrying role during his junior year (216 yards on 43 carries), Matthews figured heavily into the Vandals’ offensive plans entering the 2007 season, assuming the key role of fullback in the Vandals’ Wing-T formation.
And, despite being a bit undersized for a fullback at 6-foot-1, 175 pounds, Matthews delivered in his only season as a full-time varsity starter on offense, rushing for a team-high 750 yards.
‘He was a big part of our success last year,’ Stout said. ‘At fullback, he was our leading rusher, and with our offense, you’ve got to have a good fullback.
‘We’re a sweep-based offense, so teams are going to do some things to take that sweep away, so you’ve got to have an inside threat. Devan was that good inside threat for us.’
Matthews’s versatility was perhaps his biggest asset.
Despite lacking the size of a prototypical north-south, between-the-tackle bruiser, Matthews was more than willing to sacrifice his body in return for an extra yard or two.
But his quickness off the ball was clearly his biggest asset.
‘He was more of a cross between a fullback and a halfback,’ Stout said. ‘Instead of just running into people, he was quick at running up into the hole.
‘He got into a good stance and was able to get off the ball well and explode into the hole. When you do that, you don’t have to be that big bruiser type of fullback. He’s only 175 pounds, but the thing he could do was get up in there 3 or 4 yards before the defense could react.’
Stout cited a pair of carries during Matthews’ biggest individual games last year – a 121-yard rushing effort in a win at Hillsboro and a 99-yard performance in a 7-6 win over Staunton – as signature Matthews runs.
‘He broke a tackle on a big run that got us going against Hillsboro, and mainly, he had turned his shoulders at the point of contact and shrugged that tackle off,’ Stout said. ‘It was basically the same thing against Staunton… He could make that cut and turn his shoulders sideways and take away some of that target to tackle while still running north and south.’
The two runs Stout speaks of propelled the Vandals to two of their biggest wins of the year.
Now Matthews will have the opportunity to propel the Division III Red Devils in the right direction following a 2-8 season.
‘Hopefully I can go up there and make a go at it,’ Matthews said. ‘I just want to keep playing football.’