Sophomore linebacker Derrick Mathews came out of Galena Park (TX), North Shore High School with full confidence in his abilities looking to make an immediate impact for the University of Houston, and that's exactly what he did.
The former North Shore Mustang went into camp as freshman last fall eager and ready to learn and worked his way into the starting lineup for Houston, starting all 14 games as a true freshman in 2011 and feels his time at North Shore helped him achieve that early success.
"Coming from North Shore, I think we have a very strong football atmosphere, which I think helped prepare me for college football," the 6-foot tall, 207-pound linebacker told CougarsDen. "There was a difference in practice because this is college and that was high school but I feel like North Shore helped me become more ready. North Shore is a very college ready program, you have college level coaches there, so you're well prepared and it helps you get ready for college."
A lot of people were surprised at how much early success Mathews saw, but he himself was not among that group.
"I had my mindset right, I had my body ready, the conditioning at North Shore is almost the same as it is here, so I really felt like I could come in right away and play," the linebacker said. "I work hard every day and I felt like if I continued to do that I would be able to play."
Mathews finished the year as the team's second leading tackler with 106 tackles, good for tops among all returning players. He also had 10 tackles-for-loss, one sack, three interceptions and two forced fumbles earning himself a nod on the Conference USA All-Freshman Team.
Fast-forward to 2012 and Mathews is entering the season as one of the clear starters at linebacker in Houston's new 4-3 defensive scheme and while there is a bit of a re-learning process with the new scheme, this time he's not the only one learning the new scheme.
"In the spring he was trying to learn everything that we were doing just like everyone else," defensive coordinator Jamie Bryant said of Mathews. "Now in fall camp he's really picked up on the new system, he understands where he's supposed to be, where he fits in the run game, so he's had a really good fall camp."
Now that he's got a year of college football under his belt Mathews feels a lot more comfortable with his role on defense and notices the difference that a year makes.
"I'm a lot more relaxed this year," the playmaking linebacker said. "Coming in as a freshman I had the mindset that I need to show what I can do, now that I'm a sophomore it's more that I need to perfect what I do. I feel more comfortable doing what I do and therefore I can become a better player by perfecting my technique and fundamentals."
It's not all that common that a team has a sophomore that can be a leader on defense but with his experience as a starter last season and his abilities, Mathews feels he can do just that despite being a sophomore.
"I feel like I can step-up and become a leader on the defense," Mathews said. "I'm not really very vocal, I'm working on that but I try to lead by example. I definitely feel like I can become one of the leaders of the defense."
With the implementation of the new 4-3 defense and their last year of football in Conference USA, Mathews summed up his expectations for the coming season with one word.
"Success," Mathews said. "We practice hard to become the best defense we can, we come together and we meet as a defense we go over the goals that we need to have. We've been practicing together and becoming one, I feel like we'll be ready and see a lot of success."
Mathews and the Cougars get their first test of the season a week from Saturday when they host the visiting Texas State Bobcats.