The ice, the cold, the snow — it all took some getting used to for a dude from Florida. But the radical adjustment in winter weather from his home in Jacksonville, Fla. to his new home in Bloomington was a change that D.J. Matthews was willing — no, eager — to make.
The former Florida State receiver found himself enthused about flying north to start the spring semester at IU in January, the first checkpoint in what he hopes will be a strong finish to his college career later this fall. At Indiana, Matthews sees opportunity. He sees an offense with great potential, and he sees himself fitting into a couple of familiar roles when spring practice gets underway next week.
“I’m super excited,” Matthews said Thursday. “I mean, we threw the ball almost 52, 55 times a game (last season). That’s a lot for us receivers to get out there and make a lot of plays.”
After three seasons with the Seminoles, Matthews entered the NCAA transfer portal last fall. He made 84 career receptions for 809 yards and five touchdowns on offense, while serving as one of the best punt returners in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Matthews left Florida State ranked 10th in program history with 582 career punt return yards over 56 returns, with one returned for a score.
Both dimensions of Matthews’ game were appealing to Indiana, which was searching for help in the slot last fall due to the expected departure of receiver Whop Philyor. When IU initially reached out, Matthews’ interest was piqued. He was familiar with the careers of several players in the program, including longtime friend Devon Matthews.
He was also familiar with IU’s recent rise as a program, and the invitation to play for coach Tom Allen was one he was excited to accept.
“When I first entered the transfer portal, Indiana was one of the first schools to reach out to me,” Matthews said. “I’ve been hearing so much great things about Coach Allen. For Coach Allen to reach out to a guy that’s already graduated and already played and has experience, giving me another opportunity to come to a winning program — a dominant, uprising program — that’s just something I felt like I couldn’t pass up, playing for one of the greatest coaches in college football right now. That had a lot to do with it.”
Matthews was considered the No. 8 receiver prospect in the country during the 2017 recruiting cycle, according to the 247 Sports Composite. A four-star Army All-American, Matthews had offers from heavyweights such as Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU and Notre Dame, among many other Power 5 programs.
According to Pro Football Focus, Matthews’ best year at Florida State was his last. During the 2019 campaign, the service graded Matthews’ receiving production at 73.1 — the 11th best grade among ACC regulars that season. Matthews lined up in the slot for 197 snaps in 2019, catching 29 passes for 290 yards and three scores with only one drop, according to PFF.
As a punt returner, PFF graded Matthews as the 10th best regular return man in the Power 5 in 2017, the 14th best in 2018 and the 12th best in 2019.
“Punt returning, that’s something I’ve been doing my whole life,” Matthews said. “Coach Allen told me I’d have the opportunity to play it when I got here. That’s something I take extremely serious. I take all special teams serious. I love special teams. I’m a special teams guy. That’s what first got me on the field when I got to college, so that’s something I take extremely serious.”
And Indiana, too, is serious about getting Matthews acclimated and up to speed for what everyone involved hopes will be a successful, productive 2021 season.
“I’m just happy I got the opportunity to be around so many guys that are willing to work and pursue the dream, chase everything,” Matthews said. “Chase greatness.”