April 24, 2017
Tray Matthews, with Coach Gus Malzahn and Auburn legend Mike Kolen, at A-Day.
By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. – Tray Matthews’ A-Day highlight happened before the game, when he received the Mike Kolen Award from its namesake for leading the Tigers in tackles last season.
“It’s an honor to be able to receive that, especially coming from someone before your time who was an Auburn legend and a great player in the NFL,” Matthews said. “It was a very humbling experience for me. It just shows that hard work really pays off and the work I’ve done hasn’t gone unnoticed.”
Matthews made 76 tackles in 2016, dethroning two-time Kolen Award winner Rudy Ford, who finished fourth last season with 59.
“Rudy is a great competitor,” Matthews said. “I knew I had to give it my all to beat him last year. Once I heard that he had the most tackles two years in a row, I said I wanted to do the same thing, so hopefully I can get the same thing next year.”
While Matthews would like to “pull a Rudy” and repeat as Auburn’s leading tackler, individual accolades are not his priority.
“I’m all about winning,” he said. “I just want to win. If we win and I don’t have the most tackles, I’ll be completely fine with that. We had a lot of success on defense last year and I had the most tackles so hopefully we can have a lot more success and I’ll have more tackles.”
Matthews’ versatility creates flexibility for defensive coordinator Kevin Steele.
“My position in Coach Steele’s defense, I’m kind of like a half-safety, half-linebacker,” Matthews said. “You’ll see me line up 10 yards behind everybody, or you’ll see me right beside a linebacker in the box. He has me everywhere so I can make plays all around the ball.”
At 6-foot-1, 207 pounds, the senior prides himself on being strong enough to be effective in run support and quick enough to cover receivers.
“It just shows that getting in the weight room really helps,” he said. “At an early age, I was instilled to go hard and give it all I’ve got. If Coach wants to put me at offensive guard, at defensive tackle, then go do it. I’m versatile and I’ll do whatever Coach wants me to do.”
One of seven returning starters on defense, Matthews shares the optimism for the upcoming season that he observes from his fellow students.
“It’s all around the whole campus,” he said. “Everybody feels it in the air. We’re hungry. We have a lot we want to accomplish and we’re not going to stop until we get there.”
Matthews knows about not stopping until he’s accomplished his goals. After starting at Georgia as a freshman in 2013, he transferred to Auburn, finding a new home not far his hometown, Newnan, Ga.
“Auburn has been a blessing to me,” he said. “They took me in, so it was my duty to give them all I’ve got and that’s exactly what I’m doing on and off the field.”
Active in community service, Matthews will accompany Auburn coach Gus Malzahn in May on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic, where they will work to provide clean drinking water.
“Auburn has been a blessing in my life,” Matthews said. “When I get older, Auburn’s been so good to me that I want my kids to come to Auburn.”
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer