Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
PROVO — With a long summer ahead of him, Ryker Mathews will do as he’s always done since entering the BYU football program — wait for his chance to perform.
While some players on the team are undoubtedly grateful for the long summer wait, Mathews, who hasn’t been able to perform fully in practice sessions for seven months now, certainly isn’t among them.
“It’s been extremely frustrating,” said Mathews. “I got here early to perform and thought I was doing well and now all I’ve been doing is watching and waiting to perform like I know I can. It hasn’t been fun.”
Mathews is a 6-foot-6, 313-pound offensive lineman from American Fork High. He signed with BYU in 2011 as one of the highest-profile offensive line prospects the state has ever produced, arriving at BYU shortly after competing in the prestigious national Army All-American Bowl.
Like most early-arriving prospects, Mathews had his sights on contributing immediately as a true freshman, which is a tall task for any first-year player, but particularly so for an offensive lineman. Very few offensive linemen see action their first year relative to other positions due to massive complexities and nuances involved with playing the position effectively.
Despite the challenges, Mathews performed very well in the spring and into the fall practice session, earning himself a consistent role within the Cougar offense for the 2011 season.
“I wasn’t going to start, but I was going to be the first guy off the bench,” said Mathews. “Coaches told me that I was sort of their ‘sixth-man,’ so I was excited about that role and I was going to see a lot of playing time, which is what anyone wants. I was excited about my role.”
All of that ended for Mathews just one week prior to the start of last season, however. While preparing to play against Ole Miss in the season-opener, he tore the plantar plate in his foot, which Mathews describes as “extreme turf toe.”
The injury was extreme enough to keep him on the bench for the duration of the season, but with the promise of a full recovery for spring. When spring came, however, Mathews found himself on the sidelines once again.
“It killed me not being able to be out there this spring,” said Mathews. “Last year I obviously couldn’t perform with my injury, but I’m so close now — I feel I’m about 95 percent and can do everything that I need to, but coaches decided to hold me out, and I trust them fully, but man, it’s killing me not being able to be out there.”
Mathews is perhaps a victim of his own practice success, having performed very well when he’s been healthy. Indeed, coaches feel that he’s a known commodity for them entering the fall practice session for 2012, so why risk anything in the spring?
When Mathews returns, he’ll be competing for the starting left tackle spot, which was vacated by four-year starter Matt Reynolds at the end of last season. Mathews was due to perform at offensive guard last season, but feels he has the goods to play an effective left tackle.
“They tell me that I have what it takes to play at offensive tackle, so that’s where I’ll compete for a starting spot this fall,” said Mathews. “Replacing Matt Reynolds isn’t an easy thing, but there are a lot of guys on this team that I think can do it. Hopefully I can prove to be the guy who can do it — that’s my goal this season, but more than anything, I just want to play.”
While his experience within the football program hasn’t gone according to plan, Mathews’ overall experience at BYU has. While finding a lot of challenges academically, he couldn’t be more happy with the academic and social aspects of BYU.
“I absolutely love it here and it is everything I expected it to be out of high school,” said Mathews. “I love playing with a bunch of guys that have the same goals that I have, and I’m getting used to going to school here. The classes at BYU aren’t easy, but I’m getting the hang of it and I really love everything about the team and the school. I love being at BYU.”
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