BLOOMINGTON — We ask DJ Matthews why.
He is seated at a table in the Henke Hall of Champions at Memorial Stadium. Not far from where he sits is the field. This is where Matthews does some special things. Against Illinois this season, he caught a touchdown and was then a key part of UI’s Winning Drive. Against Idaho, he got a dive and then grabbed a touchdown. In the first two games this season, Matthews has 10 receptions for 160 yards and two touchdowns.
But numbers are numbers. There is more to the world than that. Matthews’ story has already been told. He played three seasons at Florida State. He missed the 2020 season. He was a spark for IU last season, before tearing his ACL in Game 4. After the operation, Matthews said he was “heading for a depressing phase”. But his children and his family kept him away. He returned for another season at IU, a decision made in part because he wanted to set an example for his children.
We know this because Matthews talked about it.
When speaking with the media, he is open and willing to share, introspective and insightful. Not just football stuff, but also life stuff. So now Matthews is seated at a table at Memorial Stadium’s Henke Hall of Champions. He is asked a question about his willingness to share his life.
The question is simple but complicated.
“I guess I just want to convey the message, who I am,” Matthews said. “It’s just me, just my story. And I know these are people who are going through much deeper things than me… And, you know, I just want to be an outlet for people who – you can do whatever you want… You can be whatever you want to be. And then (there are) a lot of people here to help you. You’re not alone. Like nobody’s alone. I just love tell my story, what I’m going through. I like to get this out to people, so they just know that (there are) people here who are going through this with you. And you can get through it all.”
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There were certain principles, says Matthews, that he was brought up on. He said his grandmother “practically taught me everything I know”. Loyalty. Be humble. Be authentic. Respect the way you want to be respected. Love as you want to be loved. Treat others as you would like to be treated. His parents were also influential.
“I love his heart,” said IU coach Tom Allen. “I love his passion for what he does and his family and what he was called to do. For me it’s just trying to help him keep growing because things are never easy. and throughout life and just trying to help him maneuver through this and guide him and direct him. And he’s one of those who wants that. It’s been great for me to be able to spend a lot of time with him, because he really appreciates it and wants it. I just like who he is as a man.
Matthews was a highly touted freshman in high school. He had a dream: to go to the NFL and try to make it after just three college seasons. His freshman season was back in 2017. But only once in his three seasons at FSU did the Seminoles have a winning record. There was a coach carousel. In each of those three seasons in Tallahassee, Matthews never led the team in receiving yards. He was frustrated. It sent him to a “deep place”, he said. Sometimes he had doubts.
“I was like – am I not doing the right things?”
“Am I coachable? »
“Am I not making enough games?”
“Mental health is important,” Matthews said. “I actually went through it – sophomore, freshman. And it gave me alopecia and everything. I was losing my hair and all that. So I understand the mental health part. You know, people just have to find different ways to cope. And then it starts talking. You can’t hold back all these things. It’s just going to build up, toxic, negative thoughts. And it’s just not something you want inside of you. You want to be able to talk to people… You just don’t want to be, you know, so crammed with all these thoughts and stuff and it doesn’t allow you to be a good person, to pursue your dreams or your career. ”