It’s not often you see a 6-foot-5, 270 pound human being playing the point in a high school basketball game. For Ian Mathews, that nothing out of the ordinary. The former Georgia prep basketball star always seemed to view basketball as his future. He played football as a freshman, but took a step back as a sophomore to focus on basketball. It’s worth noting his high school football team was, umm, not particularly good.
His high school football team made a coaching change before Mathews’ junior season and he decided to rejoin the football team where he starred as a tight end and defensive end. He saw his recruiting start to take the next step and suddenly his future shifted from the hardwood to the gridiron.
Mathews finished his senior year with more than 60 tackles, 10 of which were behind the line of scrimmage and added another four sacks. He proved his versatility with eight catches and a touchdown pass on offense. Oh, and he served as his team’s punter, too.
#Mizzou transfer DT Ian Mathews is quite the athlete. He was a heck of a basketball player in high school. He lined up at defensive end, tight end and wide receiver. It's not everyday you see a 6-foot-5, 290 pound defensive lineman throw a touchdown. pic.twitter.com/vP7M3WWdz9— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) February 13, 2022
He decided to sign with Auburn during the early signing period last year - a time in which Kevin Steele was serving as the Tigers’ interim coach. He didn’t see the field last season as a true freshman and decided to enter the transfer portal (along with seven other defensive linemen).
Mathews’ path led him to Mizzou, where he’s one of many new additions along the defensive line.
It’s clear adding talent along the defensive line was a priority for the staff. Tigers have now added Ian Mathews (Auburn), Marquis Robinson (Auburn), Tyrone Hopper (North Carolina) and Jayden Jernigan (Oklahoma State) to the defensive line since the end of last season. It’s worth noting they lost Mekhi Wingo (DT), Jatorian Hansford (DE) via the transfer portal, as well.
Where he fits: The Tigers are suddenly surprisingly deep along the defensive line. Mathews spent most of his time lined up at defensive end in high school, but his size would seem to indicate he’ll transition to the interior at Mizzou. If that’s where he lands, Mathews will be joined by Darius Robinson, Jayden Jernigan, Marquis Robinson, Realus George, Marquis Gracial, Ben Key and possibly Kyran Montgomery and/orJalen Marshall as Mizzou’s options along the interior. That’s a whole lot of names for a position where three or four players typically receive significant playing time throughout the year.
When he’ll play: This is one of the rare instances in which a transfer will likely not come in and contribute right away. Mathews was a true freshman and didn’t see the field for Auburn. He’ll have another four years to play at Missouri. It’s my expectation that he’ll fall behind Darius and Marquis Robinson, Jernigan and George for the defensive line rotation. My guess is he’ll be battling with Gracial and Montgomery for that final spot in the defensive line rotation.
Mathews’ playing time will likely see an uptick after next season, though. He’s clearly a talented player with enough position versatility to potentially factor into the Tigers’ defensive end rotation on early downs. His game has some similarities to former Mizzou defensive lineman Akial Byers in that way.
What it all means: I had the pleasure of talking with CBS Sports analyst Aaron Taylor earlier this week and he reminded me of the point we don’t talk about often enough - the SEC is a line of scrimmage league. The Tigers have been far too thin along both the offensive and defensive lines over the last few years. Drinkwitz has gone to work to make significant additions along both position groups and that work is paying off in a big way both with talent and depth. Missouri is up to more than 35 scholarship players combined along the offensive and defensive lines. That’s a long way away from where this team was in 2020 when it wasn’t sure it would have enough players along the lines to suit up for certain games.