High profile Division I schools stopping by Itawamba Community College (ICC) this year all came to similar conclusions scouting running back Octavius Matthews.
“Everyone that went through here told us he was the best back they have seen,” ICC coach Sean Cannon said. “It was the same story every time.”
Matthews verbally committed to Auburn during the eighth annual Big Cat Weekend in June. The Alabama native had previously committed to Louisville, but changed his mind shortly after receiving the Tigers’ offer.
“It’s an easy choice when you get the offer from an in-state school,” Cannon said. “He jumped on it pretty quick. The big fish eat the little fish and the SEC football trumps everybody.”
It’s the second time in three years Auburn is in position to land the top junior college running back prospect.
Senior running back Jovon Robinson signed with the Tigers out of Georgia Military College as part of the team’s 2015 class.
Matthews is an important prospect for Auburn thanks to major turnover at the position with Peyton Barber (NFL Draft) and Roc Thomas (transfer) leaving the program. Cannon describes the 6-foot-1, 200-pounder as a Division 1-ready recruit capable of stretching the defense.
“He’s a true home run threat,” Cannon said.
Matthews jumped to the front of the line in a ICC crowded backfield as a true freshman.
Cannon is reluctant to put too much pressure on first-year players, but Matthews handled the increased workload by rushing for more than 100 yards in four of the team’s last five games while averaging more than nine yards a carry. He finished the season leading the team with 808 rushing yards and four touchdowns in 10 games.
“We had three or four guys rotating early in the season, but we got down to two guys because of injuries,” Cannon said. “It was kind of like being a baseball manager. We just went with the hot hand.”
The former North Jackson standout picked up where he left off his senior year of high school. Matthews had more than 2,000 total yards his senior year and 30-plus touchdowns.
Cannon had contacts in the area thanks to his time as the strength and conditioning coach for the University of North Alabama and they raved about Matthews’ production.
“Word of mouth got to me,” Cannon said. “I got the call and we jumped on him pretty quick. He was such a productive player. We ran to see him and got him signed.”
Cannon is thankful he gets to get one more season with Matthews before the back becomes ICC’s first player in the SEC during the coach’s six-plus years with the program.
Matthews made strides in the weight room this spring to improve his lower body strength and pack on additional muscle. As the team’s expected starter, Cannon wants to make sure Matthews can handle the grind of larger workload.
“He was durable last season, but he’s got to be next year too,” Cannon said. “We are counting on him.”
Cannon’s offensive coaching staff also challenged Matthews by moving him out of the backfield during spring practice.
“We played him some at receiver this spring and it helped him understand the offense,” Cannon said. “We were throwing the bubble screen to him, the streak routes. Our offensive coordinator really wants to move him around so no one can get a bead on him.”
Auburn hopes defenses in the SEC have similar issues game planning against Matthews when he arrives on the Plains as part of the team’s 2017 Class.