Freckles and Football: A Farewell to Number 8


Tyler Matakevich walked off the field for his final time in the cherry and white under the worst of circumstances. Jersey soaked from torrential rain and smeared paint, Matakevich choked back tears as he spoke to the media after Temple’s 32-17 loss in the Boca Raton Bowl. Fresh off the agony of an onside kick not going his way and losing the biggest games in Temple history back to back, Matakevich had to come to gripes that he would have to take off his #8 jersey for the final time.

“It’s frustrating, you know…it sucks,” Matakevich said after the game. “Once I started walking off the field, I realized I wasn’t going to be back out there in a Temple uniform ever again.”

Lost in the emotional roller coaster and the wake of the devastating defeat, Matakveich accomplished perhaps his greatest feat of his Temple career. He racked up 12 total tackles on the night, bringing his total to 493 and cementing his place in the record books as Temple’s all-time tackle leader. With that statistic, he has become one of, if not the greatest player ever to lead a Temple defense. The loss, however, is what will ultimately stick with him.

“I told the young guys, don’t let this happen again.”

Matakevich arrived at Temple in 2012 as a two-star recruit out of St. Josephs high school in Trumbull, 920x920Connecticut. After leading his team to two state championships, Matakevich broke his foot and the phone to stopped ringing. The highly recruited linebacker had fallen of the radar of many college scouts. In fact, he was recruited more heavily for baseball. His only FBS scholarship offer came from Temple. He didn’t take him long to trademark the leveling body crunching hits for which he in now own. In his first career start against South Florida, he tallied 15 tackles, 12 of them solo. He was one of only four true freshmen to earn a starting spot, and became the first freshman to break 100 tackles in a season. He would continue that trend every year, becoming only the seventh player in FBS history to record four straight seasons eclipsing the century mark.

There was no letup in the sophomore season either. Matakevich broke 100 tackles by week 8. By the end of the year, he was already 7th all-time in tackles in Temple history. As much as he accomplished on the field under the first year of head coach Matt Rhule, however, the team had nothing to show for it. The Owls finished the season at 2-10, including the infamous, last second loss at home to FCS opponent Fordham. Even in the darker days of Temple Football, Matakevich seemed to be the one of the few bright spots.

After a 6-6 campaign in 2014 in which he lead the team in tackles once again, Matakevich had his sights set on his senior year.111515_temple-lose_1200

Recognized around campus for his blazing red hair and bulky frame, Matakevich was one of the ten returning seniors on the Temple defense. Over the course of the next 14 games, he cemented himself as not only one of Temple’s all time greats, but as one of the nation’s best.

He started that campaign by leading a dominant defensive performance en route to the Owls’ first win against rival Penn State in 74 years. Matakevich sacked PSU’s Christian Hackenberg three times that day. The clip of him shooting through a gap and throwing Hackenburg to the turf, followed by a roar and fist pump has found its way onto every highlight tape.

In the next game against Cincinnati, the Owls were on the rope. With Gunner Kiel passing for over 400 yards, the Bearcats were knocking on the door looking to tie the game up with seconds to play. Taking the snap, Kiel fired one into the endzone. As the ball was tipped up in the air, Matakevich raced back, dove, and was able to get under the ball for a game saving interception.

While Matakevich was dominate under the radar for so long, on Halloween night, he was finally in the national spotlight. Ninth ranked Notre Dame was in town to take on the Owls at a sold out Linc. ABC was nationally televising the game in primetime. He wasted no time making an impact. On the final play of the first quarter, Matakevich tore through the Irish defensive line, got to running back C.J. Prosise’s ankles, and threw him to the turf for a loss as the stadium erupted.

He caused another explosion late in the first half. With Notre Dame looking to extend their 14-10 lead just outside the end zone, DeShone Kizer’s pass was tipped in the air by Tavon Young. Racing in to the play was Matakevich, who plucked the ball out of the air and ran it back 20 yards to keep the Owls in the game. A deafening roar took over crowd.

The defense couldn’t hold on it that game, as the Irish were able to march down and score the game-winning touchdown. During the fatal drive, however, the camera found Matakevich in a timeout. Even with Notre Dame threatening, he was smiling ear to ear. He was finally on the stage he had not been waiting for, but working for.

Matakevich became Temple Football’s most decorated player during the historic 2015 campaign. He took home the Chuck Bednarik award, given to the nation’s best defensive players. As he took the stage to accept the award, he once again seem flabbergasted by the spotlight. “I don’t think anyone would’ve thought a kid from Temple would be up here.”

Becoming the first Owl to win the award, Matakevich joined the elite company of players such as Ndamukong Suh, Charles Woodson, and Julius Peppers, all who have gone on to become Pro-Bowlers in the NFL.

The list goes on and on for Matakevich with accolades such as the winner of the 2015 Bronko Nagurksi Trophy, LOTT Impact Award, AAC Defensive Player of the Year, AP and consensus first team All-American. Through all the trophies, honors, and interviews, however, Matakevich stayed true to his team. He was widely regarded as the team’s hardest worker, staying in the film room until 10:00 at night. He dons a single digit jersey, recognizing him as one of the team’s toughest players.

The stats for Matakevich speak for themself. He was the only FBS player to lead his team in tackles every AR-312089838game this season. He leads all linebackers in the country with five interceptions, and almost reeled in one more against Toledo. He was fifth in the nation with 138 combined tackles. Well spoken and well composed, media rushed to swarm him after practice and after games in hopes of getting a sound bite.

The Owls may not find another player like Matakevich for a long time. The exposure and success of the 2015 season has built his career into a resume primed for the next step to the NFL. Even after all the accolades, records and national buzz, the disappointment of the last two games overrides that. He was the first to admit that he missed tackles that should have been made. In always wanting to do more, both for himself and the team, Matakevich’s tenure as an Owl will always be a part of him.

“I’ll do anything for them. I told them that. That’s the great thing about our team- we’re a family. And when we say that we truly mean it.”

His presence on North Broad will be sorely missed. His consistent play was instrumental in the eight-win turnaround. Tyler Matakevich has already has plenty to hang his hat on, but putting Temple on the map might be just the beginning of his journey.

Nov 28, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Temple Owls linebacker Tyler Matakevich (8) raises the championship trophy in celebration of a victory against the Connecticut Huskies to win the American Athletic Conference East Division title at Lincoln Financial Field. Temple won 27-3. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

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