The time is now. Especially for a redshirt sophomore like Tony Mathis Jr.
As 2020 allowed Leddie Brown’s game to mature into a 1,000-yard season, the depth was lacking. Then-backup Alec Sinkfield was left with 372 rushing yards and Mathis even less. When the news of Sinkfield’s exodus to Boston College hit, Mathis got the call up.
Coming off a season where Mathis only posted 51 plays, 24 on offense and 27 on special teams, Mountaineer Nation had the right to be concerned about the big shoes to fill.
In part, co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Chad Scott owes Mathis Jr.’s potential this season to his ability to take criticism and stay the course.
“It’s a bigger credit to him than it is to me,” Scott said of Mathis becoming a mainstay in the program over the last three seasons.
“It shows his loyalty to the program and who he is as a competitor, because from his standpoint, it’s easy for him. For me, I’m a coach who will be real with him, just tell him how it is. It really shows his maturity to be able to take, nor necessarily criticism, but the kind of critiquing, in his case, that’s part of his game.”
Working up the ranks is something that has come easy for Mathis, and it’s paying off now that he’s effectively on Brown’s heels for reps.
Coach Scott says that Mathis Jr.’s most glaring issue up to this point has been his perceived self-worth. Despite his high school stats boasting an Offensive Player of the Year award in 2018, a place in the Rising Senior Game in 2017, and finishing his senior season with 1,035 yards and all-region honors, the Orlando, FL native came to the Mountaineers more timid than the coaching staff had expected.
Over the course of the next two seasons, Neal Brown’s staff whipped him physically and mentally into shape.
Going into this season, head coach Neal Brown saw huge potential in Mathis Jr.’s approach as opposed to the last two off-seasons. Mathis Jr. shined at Saturday’s scrimmage, and Brown is confident in his evolution.
“Tony Mathis was the guy who really stood out offensively, ” Brown said. “He had a couple touchdowns and I thought he ran the ball with great balance, broke tackles. I’m excited for him.”
Coach Scott acknowledges that getting Mathis into the winning mindset involves coaching him as much off the field as on. Keep in mind that this isn’t a difficult task. Mathis has shown to be a quick learner and a versatile running back, especially on special teams. He worked so hard in the off-season that he won the 2021 Iron Mountaineer Award, and Scott is positive that having Mathis train with Brown will only help him improve to the place that the coaching staff expects him to take over.
“Tony’s going everything well right now,” Scott said. “When he came to the sideline, I said, ‘You finally trusted your ability of the things you can do.’ We just had that talk.
“He’s always had ability. Great high school player. Lot of success in high school, just being able to trust what he does and understand defensive plays. He’s running the ball at an elite level. What a really easy, powerful kid.”