Behind the Facemask: Cliff Matthews

As fog drifted over Flowery Branch, the Atlanta Falcons were hard at work continuing to prepare for the Green Bay Packers.

Frank Kleha: Coach Smith singled you out this week as a player who was ready when called upon and stepped up last week big time against Arizona to help us win a huge game. How do you describe your play and the way you approach your job?

Cliff Matthews: I think I'm just an ok, decent athlete. You can't tell that because I try to outwork everybody else. I try to do everything right and do it at full speed. And I try to be a good teammate. Everybody on the team has a role and roles change each week. I feel like one of my main roles is to make a difference on special teams and that's what I try to do.

FK: Other than a pro athlete what did you want to be growing up?

CM: My uncle is a deputy sheriff in Cheraw, South Carolina and my other uncle is a detective in Chesterfield County so I wanted to do something in the law enforcement field. I also ended up graduating with a degree in Criminal Justice.

FK: I heard basketball was your first love?

CM: I always wanted to play basketball in the NBA.

FK: How early did your career start?

CM: I started playing basketball in third grade and played all the way until high school. I had a couple of schools recruiting me out of high school like Stanford and Penn State. I could play the three, four or five (spots).

FK: What kind of game did you have and how well did your teams do at the high school level?

CM: I was a big man who could block shots, score and drive the lane and dunk on people. At one point I was pretty decent at three's, but I got away from that because they needed me down low. I was a team player. If I was double-teamed I would dish it out to the guards for three's. It's a funny story but for four years in a row we lost in the state semi-finals to the same team – Lee Central. It was kind of rough.

FK: What other sports did you excel at that we don't know about?  

CM: I did the high jump; 6-5 was my best.  And I set the state shot put record (at 60 feet).

FK: What was your best sports memory?

CM: In 2007 my senior year in high school in football we were 15-0. My last play I got a sack to win the state championship. They were at midfield with 10 seconds left on the clock and I rushed from my left defensive end on the last play of the game.  I came off the edge and ran the quarterback down and sacked him….game over. They kept it going and won another two or three state championships when I left.

FK: Sounds like you had dominant program. Have any other players from your high school made it to the pro's?

CM: Jaron Brown, number 13 for the Arizona Cardinals. He played it all at my high school; he was a beast. I did get a chance to talk to him last week after the game.

FK: What was your first car?

CM:  A white 1995 Buick Roadmaster that I got in high school. And I still have it today. It's got 278,000 miles on it. We've been through it all. I've replaced everything on it so I've kept it. It's called the "White Stallion" and she can still get up and go.

FK: What are some of your favorite movies?

CM: "Friday," "Hook-Up," "Good Fellas," Scarface" and "Rush Hour."

FK: What about sports movies?

CM: I like "Remember the Titans" because my dad used to play for them (T.C. Williams) back in the day.

FK: What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?

CM: I used to kick (off) and punt (in high school).

FK: For as big as you are, did you just crush the ball?  

CM: I was pretty good but I was really inconsistent. I would kick two in the end zone and then two others would be out of bounds. I would punt one 60 yards and then the next would be 20 yards straight up in the air (laughing).

FK: If you could sit down with any four people to have dinner who would it be?

CM: Martin Luther King, Michael Jordan, President Obama and 50 Cent.

FK: Do you have a guilty pleasure?

CM: Yes, lemon peppered chicken wings from Taco Mac. In the offseason, I have it all the time probably two to three times a week.

FK: What type of music do you like?

CM: I like rap, hip-hop, R&B and a little bit of pop.

FK: Who do you listen to the most?

CM: Tupac, Biggie, Jay-Z, Nas, DMX and Eminem.

FK: Do you go to a lot of concerts?

CM: No, that's not really my thing. I like to go to comedy clubs. I've been to see Mike Epps, Kevin Hart and Kat Williams.

FK: The last time I was star struck was…?

CM: I was playing AAU basketball in Orlando and Michael Jordan's son was playing. The gym was ridiculously packed and nobody knew if Michael was going to come. But he showed up and he walked right past me. He didn't say anything (laughing) and neither did I. That was the first time I was star struck.

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