Steve Matthews knows what it takes to be successful in college football and make it to the professional ranks, having set several passing records as a quarterback at Memphis State before being drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in 1994 and playing in the NFL with the Chiefs, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans.
Now the head football coach at Knoxville (Tenn.) Catholic High, Matthews sees that kind of next-level potential in his former four-star wide receiver Amari Rodgers, who will sign with Clemson on Wednesday’s National Signing Day.
“The sky’s the limit,” Matthews told The Clemson Insider recently. “I played five years in the NFL as a quarterback, and I had some great receivers and played on some outstanding teams. I think he fits right in there as a guy that can definitely play on Sundays if everything goes in his favor, and I think Clemson’s coaches feel the exact same way.”
Rodgers, a consensus top-200 prospect in the 2017 class, started each of his four seasons at Knoxville Catholic and won two Mr. Football Back of the Year awards in the state of Tennessee’s 4A classification as a junior and senior.
As a senior in 2016, Rodgers recorded more than 40 catches for over 1,200 yards and 18 touchdowns while averaging 31 yards per reception. In 2015, he amassed 2,511 all-purpose yards and 31 total touchdowns, including 1,600 receiving yards and 23 receiving touchdowns, two punt returns for touchdowns, two kickoff returns for touchdowns and three rushing touchdowns.
“He’s been outstanding,” Matthews said. “He’s been a four-year starter for us and was a little banged up his first year, but just a tremendous athlete. Electrifying with the ball in his hand, a great student and just an outstanding young man off the field.”
Rodgers committed to Clemson on Valentine’s Day 2016, choosing the Tigers over Tennessee, Florida State, Wake Forest, Alabama and others. He was formerly committed to Southern Cal, where his dad, Tee Martin, is the offensive coordinator.
Matthews thinks Clemson’s offensive style and its match with Rodgers’ skillset is one of the reasons he sided with the Tigers in the end.
“I think one of the reasons he chose Clemson was because of their style of offense with a lot of the jet sweeps and screens and getting the ball into their playmakers’ hands,” Matthews said. “I think Amari fits perfectly into what they want to do, and I know coach (Jeff) Scott and coach (Dabo) Swinney are very excited about his athleticism and what he’s going to bring.”
Matthews believes Rodgers can bring difference-making ability to Clemson’s receiving corps, starting with his speed, sure handedness and effectiveness with the ball. The 5-foot-10, 205-pounder is shifty, strong and plays bigger than his size.
Matthews compared Rodgers to New York Giants star wide receiver O’Dell Beckham Jr.
“I think he reminds me of O’Dell Beckham Jr., just with the way he plays, his ability to make the tough catches and go up and get the ball in crowds,” Matthews said. “He just has great leaping ability, and then once he gets the ball in his hands — he started as a running back for us. He’s a solid 205, so very difficult to bring down once he gets the ball.”
Off the field, Rodgers is just as good as he is on it, with the type of character that other people tend to gravitate toward.
“Very humble. It takes a little while to get to know him, but once you do, just really an outstanding young man,” Matthews said. “He comes from a great family. We’re a small private catholic school of about 600 students, and he gets along well with everybody. Everyone really enjoys his company, teachers and guidance counselors included. Just can’t say enough about him. We’re extremely proud of him, and think he’s going to have an outstanding career there at Clemson.”
Rodgers will make things official with Clemson when he signs on the dotted line next week.
Matthews, like a lot of Clemson fans, is excited to see what he accomplishes in the future.
“It’ll be great. I’m happy for him,” Matthews said. “Obviously right here in Tennessee country, but I’m happy for him and his family. I feel like coach Scott and coach Brooks did a great job of explaining to him where he’d fit in the offense, and ultimately I think that’s what swayed his decision on leaving Knoxville and going to Clemson.
“But in the end, he could have went anywhere in the country, and I think he’s going to represent himself very well.”
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