PHILADELPHIA — Oregon needed a play. Casey Matthews set about making one.
Down by eight, with less than five minutes to go in college's national championship game, desperately needing the ball back, Matthews came flying at Auburn quarterback Cam Newton.
With his long hair falling across his shoulder pads, who could watch and not think of his older brother, Clay Matthews III, a quarterback-hunting linebacker with similar locks? Those with longer memories might recall their father, Clay Matthews Jr., a four time Pro Bowler.
Of course Casey Matthews would be here chasing the Heisman Trophy winner, the latest member of a football family tree that keeps sprouting branches.
But Matthews, his family and coaches say, has built his own story. He's proud of his family, but intends to make his own name.
He'll have a chance in Philadelphia. Drafted by the Eagles in April, he is the most prominent addition to a linebacking corps in need of fresh faces. Despite being a fourth-round pick, he is probably the most well-known member of the Eagles' draft class.
In part that's due to his lineage, but much of the acclaim also came after that game on college football's big stage, a landmark moment in a single-minded football career that began when he was a boy.
Matthews' first football memories begin in Atlanta, where his father was winding down a 19-year NFL career.
He remembers being 6; his father says 7. Either way, they started Matthews at running back. He took a handoff about 60 yards for a score. There's a video of the play somewhere in the Matthews house in Agoura Hills, Calif., but it's hard to watch. Dad was too busy leaping in excitement to keep the focus.
Matthews took up the game earlier than any of his three brothers. Kyle started in high school. Brian also played in high school. Clay III, the Packers linebacker and second youngest, began in middle school.
"I never pushed them," says Clay Jr. "If you're going to do it, all we ask is that you do it the right way."
Casey Matthews never seriously pursued other sports, didn't look for other avenues.
"I've always enjoyed it," he says. "Never looked back."
He learned from his brothers and starred at Oaks Christian High School, about 40 miles outside of USC's Los Angeles campus, where Clay Jr., Kyle, Clay III and Bruce Matthews — Casey's uncle — all played.
But USC never seriously recruited Casey. Instead, he took a scholarship from Oregon, becoming the first of his siblings to move away after high school.
"I've always been the shy one," Matthews says. Moving "forced me to grow up. I couldn't be a shut-in."
A quiet leader
"He's the youngest, but if you were to meet him, you'd think he was the oldest," says Kyle Matthews, 28, the actual oldest of the four Matthews boys, who also have a sister, Jennifer.
Talk to those who know the 22-year-old Casey and the words that come up most often are "quiet" and "mature."
"He's not going to have his own radio show on WIP, I can tell you that," said Oregon head coach Chip Kelly.
"He's a leader, but he's not a scream-and-holler type leader," said Bill Redell, head coach at Oaks Christian.
Kyle, a walk-on safety at USC who now works in real estate, called Casey dependable, responsible, consistent. He points to his brother's dating life: same girlfriend since he was 17.
"Casey's very good about focusing on football and working out," Kyle says. "The finer details, such as cooking and laundry and all that, I don't think he could survive if it wasn't for his girlfriend."
The on-field steadiness is what his coaches remember.
"Everyone knew no matter what was going on, Casey understood the system," Kelly says. "Casey understood what needed to be done."
Finding his own way
Moments after Matthews was drafted, he heard a well-worn question: He was asked to compare himself to Clay.
They're both linebackers. Sons of a linebacker. Hair out the back of the helmet. They come from a family that includes a Hall of Famer, Bruce, and a cousin, Kevin Matthews, who plays center for the Tennessee Titans. Casey's grandfather, Clay Sr., played for the 49ers.
But until recently, the Packers' Clay III hadn't cast such a large shadow. He had to walk on at USC. It wasn't until his fifth year that he won a starting job. Casey Matthews, meanwhile, had a scholarship out of high school — a first among his brothers — and played as a freshman, including one start. He got seven starts as a sophomore.
That same year, 2008, Clay emerged as an explosive pass-rushing force. Casey Matthews relies more on instincts, smarts and relentless study.
"He wasn't going to be the kind of player his brother was," says former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti, who recruited Matthews. "But he could still make his own way."
Says Matthews, "Clay's his own player. I'm my own player."
That Casey lasted to the fourth round of the draft indicates that few NFL scouts expect him to match Clay's level of domination. But Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo loves his effort.
"He's a 110 percent kid all the time," Castillo says. "Those kind of guys, they do the extra things on their own, they study the extra tape."
Leading up to the national title game, Matthews saw that Newton ran with his long arms away from his body, leaving the ball exposed. In the right situation, he noted, he could punch it loose.
In the fourth quarter, with Auburn winning and the clock bleeding, Newton took a shotgun snap and ran. Matthews pursued from behind and pounced. His left hand grabbed Newton's hip while his right smashed the ball free. Oregon recovered.
"When we need a play in a clutch moment, in the biggest game of his career, he came up with it," Kelly says.
Matthews, the quiet one, pounded his chest, roared.
"That's kind of his release valve," Kyle says.
Oregon would tie the game, but lose on a late field goal. Matthews would soon begin the next step.
He wants to establish himself in the NFL, but he still values his brother's advice on preparation, training and diet. (They also both have endorsement deals with Suave for Men.)
Since the draft the brothers have worked out twice a day with other NFL players in California. They run, box, practice mixed-martial arts, lift and train on sand dunes and stairs.
But what about free time? The hardest thing to learn about Matthews is what he does away from football. His coaches, even his father, struggle for answers.
"He has no hobbies," Kyle says, only partly joking.
Pressed, Casey says he recently finished reading The Lincoln Lawyer.
He'd prefer to be reading a playbook. Eagles coaches believe he could compete for a starting linebacker job this year, possibly in the middle, but it's a position that carries significant responsibility.
"Definitely not being able to talk to the coaches and get a playbook is going to put me behind the system," Matthews says.
Instead of minicamp, his daily routine includes working out, a nap, and video games — Madden or Call of Duty, mostly.
"I'm pretty bored," Matthews says. He'd rather be playing football, but it's on hold for the moment, and so is the next step on his own path. "Right now, I'm just an unemployed college grad living at home."