Temple LB Matakevich earns top college defensive player
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Temple senior Tyler Matakevich spent the past several years idolizing Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly.
Now he has something in common with him.
Matakevich is the winner of the Bronko Nagurski Award, which is awarded annually to the nation's top defensive player. The linebacker accepted the honor from the Charlotte Touchdown Club in conjunction with the Football Writers Association at a banquet Monday night in Charlotte.
Matakevich joins a long and impressive list of Nagurski winners, including Kuechly (2012), Ndamukong Suh (2009), Terrell Suggs (2002), Champ Bailey (1998), Charles Woodson (1997) and Warren Sapp (1994).
''You watch Luke Kuechly and he just excels on and off the field. He is a typical role model and somebody I try to reflect my game after,'' Matakevich said.
Like Kuechly, Matakevich seems to have a knack for finding the ball and making tackles.
The 6-foot-1, 232-pound Matakevich had 126 tackles this season - including 15 for a loss and - along with five interceptions, 4 1/2 sacks and five pass breakups, helping lead the Owls to a surprising 10-3 record and a berth in the Boca Raton Bowl.
He recorded at least 100 tackles in each of his four seasons at Temple.
Matakevich has another thing in common with Kuechly, too.
His position coach Mike Siravo was a member of the Boston College defensive staff when Kuechly played there. Matakevich also views himself as a film room and gym rat.
''I'm not the biggest, I'm the not fastest but I push myself to prepare off the field so when I step on the field I can do things faster than other people,'' Matakevich said. ''I can narrow down what plays teams might run just by the formations. I think that is a tribute to the coaches putting me in the right situations.''
He beat out four other finalists for the award, including Duke defensive back Jeremy Cash, Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson, Penn State defensive end Carl Nassib and Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland.
It marks the first time a player from Temple has won the award.
''It is an unbelievable awesome experience,'' Matakevich said. ''I don't think anybody from Temple University has been here before, especially to come here and win it. I look at the other (finalists) around me and I don't even know how I'm up here. It's an incredibly humbling experience. ... I don't think anybody thought a kid from Temple would be here a few years ago, or even before this season.''
John Rocco, executive director of the Charlotte Touchdown Club, said all five candidates were deserving of the award.
''Each of these young men has earned the honor of having his name associated with football legend Bronko Nagurski and have distinguished themselves both on and off the playing field,'' Rocco said in a release.
The keynote address for the banquet was given by Auburn coach Gus Malzahn.
Former Ohio State star Randy Gradishar received this year's Bronko Nagurski ''Legends Award.''