NASHVILLE, Tenn. — By the time Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews graduates, he’ll have a chance to rewrite the record books at his school and in the Southeastern Conference.
But what he really wants is a SEC championship for the Commodores.
By returning for his senior season instead of leaving early for the NFL draft, Matthews believes Vanderbilt can win its first league title.
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“I know for a fact I have the guys around me that can take this school to an SEC championship next year,” Matthews said Sunday. “That is the main reason why I’m staying, and I’m going to devote all my time to making sure Vanderbilt is on the podium in Georgia by season’s end next year.”
Joined by his parents Roderick and Brenda as well as Vanderbilt coach James Franklin, Matthews announced his decision to stay just six days after the Commodores (9-4) wrapped up their first nine-win season since 1915 with a 38-24 victory over North Carolina State in the Music City Bowl.
“I felt like I could have (been) drafted really high and really helped out an NFL team, but we’ll just wait another year to do that,” Matthews said.
He led the SEC this season with a school-record 1,323 receiving yards, the fifth-highest total in league history. The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder had 94 catches, the second-most in school and SEC history.
Matthews, a distant cousin of Jerry Rice, also has 10 career games with 100 receiving yards or more, including a school-record seven this season.
In three years, the all-SEC selection has 150 receptions for 2,282 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Matthews needs 812 yards to capture the SEC’s all-time receiving record. With another monster season, he could surpass former Vanderbilt standout and current Chicago Bears wide receiver Earl Bennett for most career receptions (236) in league history.
“This is the biggest recruit that we’re signing this year, getting this guy to come back,” Franklin said. “I don’t think there is any question that Jordan was ready to make this move (to the NFL) physically and mentally. He made a really mature decision. … He wants to continue his opportunity, refine his craft, have an opportunity to earn his degree and then take his talents to the next level.”
Matthews plans to graduate next December, so he can begin training immediately for the 2014 NFL draft. According to Franklin, Matthews will take out an insurance policy in case of injury. Matthews said the chance of a season-ending or career-threatening injury, like the one that occurred to South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, didn’t weigh heavily on his mind.
“You can get hit by a bus walking outside,” Matthews said. “You don’t worry about that stuff, man.”
Nor is he concerned with his production decreasing because of a new quarterback.
Jordan Rodgers will be gone, leaving either rising senior Austyn Carta-Samuels or redshirt freshman Patton Robinette to take over.
“Relationships are built. They don’t just happen,” Matthews said. “We are going to be throwing every single day to the point we get the relationship together the same way me and Jordan had it. So I don’t think we’re going to miss a beat at all.”