By DAVID ALMEDA
KENNESAW, Ga. — In 2015, Kennesaw State club lacrosse went further than it ever had.
In securing a 14-3 overall record with a spot in the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association National Tournament in California, KSU reached new heights. One factor that helped lead the Owls’ charge to the national spotlight was the play of attackman Tyler Matthews.
Matthews, a 25-year-old senior and captain of the squad, earned some notable accolades for his 2015 season. He was named the SouthEastern Lacrosse Conference offensive player of the year and won second team All-American honors. Despite his success, lacrosse was not originally his first choice.
The 2016 KSU men’s lacrosse team. (Photo from their Facebook page.)
“I started playing lacrosse because I wasn’t allowed to play football as a kid,” Matthews said. “A couple of my friends in high school played and so I got into it. My mom didn’t know what it was so she couldn’t really tell me no.”
As a student at Kell High School in Marietta, Georgia, Matthews faced several obstacles as a player immersed in a game that was new to him.
“It was tough at Kell because our crosstown rival was Lassiter and they’re a powerhouse program,” Matthews explains. “We weren’t that good. I went through three different coaches in three years.”
After graduating, Matthews opted to attend Gainesville State College in Athens, hoping to transfer to the University of Georgia. He was denied and subsequently decided to take a break from school. He moved back to Cobb County and began to work at a warehouse, a job that he retained for two and a half years.
Things changed for Matthews when one of his friends began to try to lure him out. Andrew Flood, a goalie from KSU’s team at the time, eventually convinced Matthews to leave his job.
“Working in a warehouse is not a wise career choice as I soon found out,” Matthews said. “With a little help from Andrew, I decided that going back to school and playing lacrosse again was a better life choice for me.”
Matthews began attending KSU and joined its lacrosse team in 2012. His collegiate lacrosse experience was immediately very different than what he was used to at Kell. For the first time, Matthews had to learn basic offenses and schemes that he never did in high school.
“I think my experience at Kell kind of left me with a lack of lacrosse IQ,” Matthews said. “I kind of had to learn a lot of that stuff. When I was in high school I was a run-and-gun kind of player. Once I started understanding the game on a deeper level it helped my success tremendously.”
During his second campaign with the Owls in 2013, Matthews hit a bump in the road when he separated his shoulder during the season’s second game against Auburn. The injury tore all the tendons in his shoulder and required surgery to fully repair. With his season on the line, it was up to Matthews to determine when exactly that would happen.
“I had to make a choice: either get surgery then for a six-month recovery, or hold off, get surgery later in life and come back in six weeks,” Matthews said. “I chose to come back because I felt the season was important, and I think I made the right decision.”
The move ended up paying off for the Owls, as they ended up playing in the championship round of the SELC tournament later that season.
In 2015, Matthews etched his name in KSU’s record books. In a game in which he had seven assists, he set a new mark for goals in a single game with nine against Wofford College. He is currently four goals away from tying the school record for career scores.
Outside of the statistical standpoint, Matthews has been a valuable asset in other ways. As one of the older players on the team, he has fit into the role of a leader for a young squad.
“Last year he was definitely our leader on the field,” KSU club lacrosse head coach Tyler Yelken said. “He was able to take over games when we needed him to and was able to lead the younger guys. We had a pretty young team last year and he was able to help them out and settle them in.”
From an offensive standpoint, Matthews is a key piece that makes everything easier for KSU offensive coordinator Brad Jones.
Jones, who once played alongside Matthews for the Owls, knows exactly what he’s capable of.
“There’s so much that we can do with him,” Jones said. “We can use him as an attackman. We can use him as a midfielder to get mismatches. His breakaway speed sets him apart from a lot of people that he plays against. I have no about putting him up against anyone.”
After losing in the MCLA National Tournament to eventual champion Dayton, the Owls are hungry for another shot. Now in his senior year, Matthews hopes that this is the season that he and his team take the next leap.
“The individual stuff is nice, but this year I want to win a championship,” Matthews said. “We’re not as intimidated about it this year. We’re ready to work for it.”