At the start of preseason camp in August, Yetur Gross-Matos was behind three veteran defensive ends on the depth chart. Following the retirement from football due to injuries by two of those players, Gross-Matos found himself not just in the starting lineup, but in a critical position, expected to produce for Brent Pry’s defense.
Torrence Brown and Ryan Buchholz may not have contributed on the field after each was forced to retire from football with eligibility remaining, but they have been important in the development of the defensive end group. They serve as mentors to the talented young Gross-Matos, who describes them as though they are family members.
“They are like big brothers. And me, I’m not a fast learner. So to have those guys there, to help me out with the defense every single day in practice is huge.”
Gross-Matos was asked to expand on his comment of not being a fast learner, so he gave the reason why his time on the field was limited last season even though he was physically able to contribute from day one.
“The whole freshman year I kind of knew what I was doing,” he smiled and repeated, “I kind of knew what I was doing. Just the scheme of the defense and making adjustments during the game, I wasn’t really catching on. I think that’s a huge difference from last season to this season.”
Here it is in his own words.
Last season Gross-Matos had 1 tackle for loss and .5 sacks heading into the Fiesta Bowl, where he recorded a sack and a tackle for loss to take his total to 2 tfls and 1.5 sacks. In 2018 he has 12.5 tfl’s and 6 sacks with at least five games left on the schedule. His physical makeup has hardly changed, year to year, as Gross-Matos said, it was the mental side of the game that has caused the improvement.
He later spoke about the process of making plays and why his numbers are improving in recent weeks. “I think what’s happening is understanding the defense and playing within the framework of the defense. And then the plays, they just happened to come my way and I was able to do what I needed to do.”
After having never recorded more than one sack in a game until two weeks ago, he had two in each of the past two games. His previous solo tackle high in one game was three, which he got during the Ohio State game. Versus Indiana he had 6 solo tackles and followed it up with 7 solo tackles last week in the win against Iowa.
When asked if he felt that he has turned a corner in terms of becoming the dominant player that some have been anticipating, he shook his head and answered very honestly. “I think I’m playing well. Uh. I don’t know.”
It’s clear that his head is in the right place and for all the talent that he possesses, his humility is in no short supply, either.
When he was read the list of statistical accomplishments that he had versus Iowa and asked what he thought of them, his response was, “I just found out when you told me. I’m not surprised. A lot of my plays come from running across the field and making a tackle. Just playing with a lot of energy and effort. So I’m not surprised.”
Muhammad Ali once said that it is not bragging if you can back it up. Gross-Matos does not seem poised to brag about himself anytime soon, but he is not bashful about his ability. It appears that he is fully aware of his talent while not feeling compelled to talk about it.
One more follow-up question asked about other players in college football that retweet stats when they do well, and how it is somewhat unusual for a player to pay so little mind to their own personal stats. That got another quick, easy response. “Yeah. I’m just glad we won, to be honest.”
When asked about the final play of the game, which ended up with a lateral to an offensive lineman he gave another insightful, honest answer. “That last play confused me. I hit the quarterback and then looked up and there was a huge offensive lineman running with the ball. I’m like, he better not score. If he scores, it’s not going to be good.”
On being asked about playing 88 snaps on the day while being as productive as he was, on how he felt following the game. “Tired. Really, really tired. But we won, so, happy too.”
Thankfully one of the advantages of youth is the ability to recover quickly.