Missions, football and broadcasting: The journey of Trevor Matich

Published: Thursday, Sept. 5 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

After he retired from football, Trevor Matich began a career in sports broadcasting. He is currently a college football analyst for ESPN.

ESPN.com

On the surface, it’s easy to admire the life of Trevor Matich.

The Sacramento, Calif., native was the starting center on the Cougars’ 1984 national championship team. He was at BYU long enough to snap the pigskin to prominent quarterbacks Marc Wilson, Jim McMahon, Steve Young and Robbie Bosco.

After college, Matich played for five teams over a 12-year NFL career.

The towering man with a charismatic personality eventually transitioned into sports broadcasting, where he has won eight Emmys for his work with the Washington Redskins and established himself as a college football analyst for ESPN.

But more admirable than what Matich has achieved is the story of how he got there. He faced multiple personal challenges growing up. He learned to deal with adversity as a Mormon missionary in Mexico. More worthwhile lessons were gained during his time in the NFL, paving the way for his opportunities in sports broadcasting.

Some say he is lucky, but there is more to it than that, he says.

“The same people that tell you how lucky you are are the same people who wouldn’t put in the same work you did to have a chance to become lucky,” Matich said in an interview last June at BYU football media day. “Truthfully, a lot of my success is just blessings. I’ve worked harder than most people I’ve ever seen. There are lots of little miracles, things that shouldn’t have happened but did.”

Early adversity

Growing up in Sacramento, Matich described himself as slow, small and uncoordinated. As a result, he was a target for bullies.

“I was the last kid picked for teams at recess. Sometimes they picked teams and left to go play while I was still standing there. I got cut from every school team that had cuts,” Matich said. “The only reason I played football on the school team was because they kept everybody, but I didn’t play. I was naïve and it never dawned on me that I should go in a different direction.”

To make matters more complicated, his parents divorced when he was young, leaving his mother alone to raise four children. Carol Matich worried deeply about each child, especially Trevor and his younger brother. But there was very little money and she was occupied with supporting the family. At one point, she had three different jobs, she said.

“I felt badly because a boy needs a dad. I thought, ‘How am I going to raise him without a dad?’ I really prayed about that,” Carol said in a telephone interview. “I look back now and marvel at what he’s accomplished.”

Matich said his teenage body was so weak that he had to lift weights with younger kids instead of those his own age.

Even then, he didn’t give up on football. He persistently asked his coaches what he could do to get better. He came to practice early and stayed late doing individual drills to put in extra work.

A growth spurt in the middle of high school helped his cause, but it wasn’t until his senior year at Rio American High School that he finally earned a starting position on the varsity team. He took advantage of the opportunity. When the season was over, he had scholarship interest from 60 schools, including BYU.

“When the door was open, I was ready,” he said.

Mission to Mexico

Matich played two seasons at BYU before accepting a call from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to serve in Torreon, Mexico, in the early '80s. Some people questioned his decision to interrupt his football career, but Matich knew he was going for the right reasons.

“They didn’t understand my motivation,” he said in a 1986 church magazine article. “Going through my mind was the fact that football is good and football is important, but someday football is going to end. Where would I be on that day if I based my entire life on football? I thought of what doesn’t end, and that’s my relationship with God, my family and with our church. So I left football, knowing that I might not ever play again. But even if I didn’t, there would be no regrets, because the most important thing would be taken care of.”

While living amid the poverty and humble Mexican people, Matich had what he called a “transformative” experience. He declined to share details about some of his difficult experiences, but said his “mission was a foundation for the rest of his career.”

“When I left, I was still really scared and shy. I was just a kid. I wasn’t mentally tough. When there was mental pressure and conflict, I tended to shy away from it,” he said. “I would love to tell you I was a lion or tower of faith, but that wasn’t what I was — I was a little kid that had to grab onto something.

“In a mission, you deal with a lot of opposition. There is a side out there that doesn’t want you to succeed as a missionary or a man. I kept being put in positions where in the midst of the action, I would think, ‘I’m terrible at this. I can’t do this, this is the worst thing in the world, but the Lord must have put me in this position for a reason, so I guess I better handle it the way he would want me to handle it,’” Matich continued. “I was able to develop the mental ability to focus through the chaos. That has served me incredibly well.”

When Matich arrived in Mexico, he weighed about 235 pounds. At best, he ate one square meal a day. When he stepped off the airplane after his mission, he weighed a measly 207 pounds. He set a goal to “eat everything slower than him” and by the beginning of his junior year, he tipped the scales at 250 pounds. Not only did he feel like a college football player again, he was more mentally prepared.

“The higher you go in football, the physical side isn’t the challenge — it’s the mental side, the focus, the discipline,” Matich said. “As it turns out, my mission was one of the most transformative times of my life, probably because it wasn’t easy.”

National champs

The highlight of Matich’s college football career is obviously being a member of BYU’s 1984 national championship team. He started on the offensive line with tackles Luis Wong and Dave Wright and guards Craig Garrick and future offensive coordinator Robert Anae.

According to a 1984 Sports Illustrated article, Matich used a bag of peanut M&Ms to review his team's game plan the night before each game that season. The brown-coated candies represented pass rushers, the orange ones linebackers and the green and yellow ones the offensive line, the article said. Matich would move the defensive M&Ms around in a variety of blitzing formations, countering each new alignment with adjustments by the greens and yellows. “Finally,” Matich told writer Jack McCallum, “I eat them up.”

For Matich, defeating Michigan in the 1984 Holiday Bowl was more than sweetness — it was culmination of four years of intense effort and camaraderie.

“We all suffered together toward that common goal,” Matich said on BYU media day. “Just the feeling of euphoria for the accomplishment, and relief that we had now done it … was fantastic. That emotion, as much as anything, is associated with everything about this place (BYU). It’s not the only emotion, not even close, but we talk about the national championship and what it meant to be a part of it as a group of men. It’s something that never fades in your memory.”

Respect over friendship

The New England Patriots selected Matich in the first round of the 1985 NFL draft. Unfortunately, he injured his ankle in the first game and missed the rest of the season.

The turning point in his NFL career came the following fall when he learned this lesson: “It’s nice to be liked, but it’s better to be respected.”

Shortly after arriving in New England, Matich realized he’d been drafted to eventually replace a grizzled old veteran with bad knees named Pete Brock, who was well-liked on the team.

“I was not accepted by some guys — they had chosen sides. I tried to be better so they would like me but it didn’t help me fit in,” Matich said. “In college, we’re all about winning for the team and it’s great. But you get up there in the NFL and it’s a hard-core, cutthroat business.”

Matich finally realized he had to stand up for himself. If someone gave him an extra shove or unkind word at the end of a play, he didn’t back down. Eventually, he earned their respect.

“I fought every day in my second training camp. If they gave me that push, it was on, right now,” he said. “If they respect you, they will like you better, too. Stand up for who you are. When I learned to be me … things really turned around and my play got better as well.”

After four seasons with the Patriots, Matich went on to play for the Detroit Lions, the New York Jets, the Indianapolis Colts and the Washington Redskins. He developed a reputation as a hard worker and learned to play various positions along the offensive line. He even caught three passes, including a touchdown, for the Jets. He also innovated the deep snapper position by figuring out how to fire the ball between his legs to the punter or holder without looking back, which meant the line had an extra blocker.

“I’m very proud of what I did in my NFL career,” Matich said.

Broadcasting

Matich’s personable nature, along with an ability to deliver a quote or tell a story, pulled him into radio and television broadcasting. When he retired from football, he received an offer from Fox. He did some NFL and college football before moving to CBS for a year.

He was doing Redskins pre- and postgame shows when he began roasting then-Washington coach Steve Spurrier, which the coach didn’t like but made for good radio, Matich said.

With the experience he had gained, the former lineman felt ready to submit an audition tape to ESPN, and he had a plan. He drove nearly 330 miles — roughly six hours — to Bristol, Conn., where he shook hands with the man at the front gate and handed over his highlight tape.

“Instead of mailing it and having it sit in a box with 500 other tapes, I drove there for a 90-second meeting with the gatekeeper,” Matich said. “A few months later, I got a call. They didn’t have any room for the NFL, but they had room in college. I’ve been there for 10 years now and I love it. I’ve been blessed with little miracles.”

During the season, Matich is a regular on ESPN’s “College Football Live,” “SportsCenter” and “College Gameday” on ESPN Radio. On Sundays, he continues to do pre- and postgame with the Redskins. His mother watches him as often as she can.

“He has such a good sense of humor and he works so hard,” Carol said. “I’m so proud of him.”

During the off-season, Matich, who is single, estimates he travels 12,000 miles around the country at his own expense to visit college coaches when their media shield is down and picks their brains for unique insight and ideas. He is also willing to study eight hours of film in order to find two high-quality minutes of material for viewers.

“I like to drill down deeper, look at things from different angles,” Matich said. “Putting in that time and work shows up on the air.”

Anae, Matich’s former college teammate and current BYU offensive coordinator, is not surprised with his success.

“Trevor had these skills when we were young men,” Anae said on media day. “He was always able to express himself and it’s no surprise that he’s done well, especially in the media deal. He’s got the talent, always has.”

For an escape from work, Matich enjoys playing pick-up basketball and reading. He’s a big fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings,” a story with which he can really relate.

“It’s an epic story of the triumph of the small over the great, against all odds and against all hope,” he said. “Of course there are little hobbits with furry feet, orcs and goblins. But it’s the story — it’s so inspirational to me.”

For those interested in football or broadcasting, or chasing any dream for that matter, Matich offers this advice.

“Know what you want and be willing to work harder than anybody thinks you could possibly work to get it,” he said. “And make sure the work you do is smart.”

Email: ttoone@desnews.com Twitter: tbtoone

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