Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
PROVO — It hasn’t been exactly easy for BYU redshirt freshman Ryker Mathews this season. Different starting lineups on almost a week-to-week basis, changes at quarterback and simply playing college football for the first time have been difficult hurdles to overcome.
Nevertheless, Mathews has provided improving play all throughout the year from his starting left-tackle position.
“Ryker is getting better every week,” said offensive coordinator Brandon Doman. “He’s starting to mold himself into a player and he’s going to be a very good one.”
Mathews had the difficult role of filling in at left tackle for four-year starter Matt Reynolds, but he hasn’t enjoyed the continuity nor experience of guys around him like his predecessor had. Reynolds benefited greatly from having his older brother Dallas starting at left guard, telling him where to go and what to do.
Mathews, meanwhile, has lined up next to three different players already this season and is currently playing next to sophomore Solomone Kafu. Kafu got the call to start at left guard after the Hawaii game and is subsequently even less experienced than Mathews.
“It hasn’t been easy for any of us with all the injuries, but you just go out and play as best you can with whoever you’re playing with,” Mathews said. “Fortunately we have great unity on the offensive line and after a couple of practices I truly trust whoever I’m playing next to as much as anyone on the team.”
One player Mathews has put a lot of trust in and relies on heavily is starting right tackle Braden Brown. Together they’ve been the only two offensive linemen to start throughout the season.
“Braden has really taken me under his wing and I’ve just sort of jumped on his hip and he teaches me so much,” Mathews said. “He’s helped me most with the mental aspects of the game and he’s obviously doing a great job and has been doing a great job for a long time here.”
Mathews feels he’s progressed immensely since playing for the first time against Washington State. The game has slowed down for him and his confidence has grown.
“I really didn’t have time to ease into a starting role after high school, so I just had to jump into it and it’s a huge adjustment,” Mathews said. “The speed of the game is the biggest thing. Guys are stronger, but it’s them being so much faster and quicker that is the most difficult thing to adjust to. Now that I know the speed of the game and I’m used to it I’m more confident and I’m playing better.”
Another big benefit for Mathews has been embattled offensive line coach Mark Weber. Weber has endured a lot of criticism this season from fans, but Mathews and the rest of his players have his back and are quick to credit him for their overall improvements this year.
“Those who criticize coach Weber aren’t in the meetings and don’t really know how tough it’s been adjusting to all the injuries he has this year,” Mathews said. “He’s been huge for my development and he’s a great coach. I came into a big situation with Matt (Reynolds) leaving and I wouldn’t be where I am today without him — none of us would. He’s a great coach and I hope fans can realize that.”
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