In the immediate wake of true sophomore linebacker Alec Olgetree's broken foot, which he sustained in Georgia's season opening game, a big question mark arose as to who could step up in his absence.
Similar questions echoed through Newnan High School a little more than a year ago when Ogletree, the then-senior safety, graduated and moved on, leaving the Cougar secondary in need of a new star.
Just a sophomore at the time, Tray Matthews said he felt the pressure to step into that role, but now, with how far he said he has come as a player, he said he thinks those questions have been answered.
"Last year, I was kinda nervous. We had Alec (Ogletree) and he was the big safety name at the school. So everyone was like, 'Oh, this season you gonna be like Alec, let's see what you're going to do,'" Matthews said. "But I've made my own name now, I'm good."
Matthews has made his name with standout performances, like in his most recent game against Luella, posting 12 tackles, an interception, and running back the game-opening kickoff for 55 yards.
Any questions that may have lingered were answered through the cheers of approval from spectators, an audible recognition of his defensive performance.
"I got some real big hits in the beginning and through out the whole game, and one of those hits, I knocked the dude out of the game. It was a big, big hit. I had the crowd going crazy. It was like an ear-hole hit too," Matthews said. "It was on the sideline, our sideline, in front of all of the fans and everything. And when I hit him, it was like, BOOM. I couldn't measure how loud that was, but I can't imagine what it's like when I get to college and everything."
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound junior said everything has just been much easier this year; now that his nerves are out of the way and his game face is on. He said he has improved in many areas, but a few things stand out most.
"My angles, gotta be angles. Breaking down, I'm getting a lot of tackles now too, and it's getting easy," Matthews said. "I can read everything now too, before I was kinda hesitant about some things, but now it's slowed down a lot. It's crazy how much it's slowed down."
The Georgia commit said he is dedicated to improving and taking care of his body as he continues to work through the remaining two years of his high school career. And for all the work he is putting in, it is being reciprocated by top programs in the SEC.
"Mainly Alabama, LSU, and Florida. Those are the three schools that are going the hardest. And Florida? Florida is going out of the way. They talk to me, like, everyday, just about simple stuff too," Matthews said. "They all know I'm still stuck on Georgia, but they are still going to give their hardest, they aren't going to give up. I'm just checking them out, having fun."
Matthews will be having said "fun" at one the marquee games of the year when LSU faces Alabama in Bryant-Denny Stadium on Nov. 5.
The freshly-turned 17-year-old prospect had some laughs recently with coach Mark Richt when the Bulldogs head coach called him up and sang him happy birthday on the phone.
Matthews said that Florida was the only other program to contact him on his birthday, and it was to let him know they baked him a birthday cake; a Florida birthday cake.
As for birthday wishes, Matthews was able to list his top three in no particular order.
"A Hummer on some 28s, for us to have first spot at the Georgia Dome at the championship-well, which I know we are already going to get there anyway - and to make sure I don't get any injuries this season or next season," Matthews said.
The first step to making his second wish happen will be to finish the season strong. Matthews' 5-2 Cougars will take on the task of a difficult remaining schedule, facing two undefeateds in Martin Luther King and Stephenson, before bringing the regular season to a close against East Coweta.
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