Christian Matthew could be planning the work schedule for a Georgia Walmart today. Instead, the Samford graduate is looking forward to another week of practice with the Arizona Cardinals.
After playing for the Bulldogs in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, the cornerback moved to Valdosta State as a graduate transfer in 2020. But the coronavirus pandemic caused the cancellation of the NCAA Division II schedule that year.
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“Moving around, I still held the faith, for sure,” Matthew said about his dream of reaching the NFL. “But I think it felt like it died when I got to Valdosta State. COVID canceled the whole Division II season, so I was like, ‘All right, I’m about to be getting a little older here. Maybe I should get a job. Maybe I should move on with my life. ‘ But just stayed true with it and ended up here. ”
Matthew said his girlfriend told him the NFL opportunity window was a lot smaller than the one for Walmart.
“I actually had a job offer as a store director for like a Walmart,” Matthew said, “and I was thinking of doing that as my first step of just having a management experience. Just get my other career off the field started and, hopefully, that would have led to something bigger somewhere later on down the line in a corporation. I was real close, but my friends and family, they kind of kept me with a level head and let me know that job will always be there. The chance to play at the National Football League is a real small opportunity. ”
When Matthew returned to the field in 2021, he earned All-Gulf South Conference recognition and Valdosta State reached the NCAA Division II championship game.
The Cardinals chose Matthew in the seventh round of the NFL Draft on April 30.
Arizona general manager Steve Keim said Matthew had “really good movement skills for a guy his length. Great straight-line speed. Good press corner. Fits our scheme. Very physical. Had him in for a 30 visit and thought he was a really mature young man. ”
Matthew started his college career at Georgia Southern. After a redshirt season in 2015, he played in nine games for the Eagles in 2016. After not seeing any action in 2017, Matthew transferred to Samford. After two seasons with the Bulldogs, he left for Valdosta State, where the pandemic pushed back his final season by a year.
Consequently, Matthew enters the NFL as a 25-year-old.
“In no other field or occupation is starting off at 25 – that’s not old,” Matthew said. “But, of course, in the NFL that gets poked a little bit. It doesn’t bother me, though. It is what it is. ”
Matthew said his age might offer an advantage, too.
“I think just being older, that comes with a little bit of maturity,” Matthew said. “It helps me as far as just being an overall professional. Getting in, spending extra time with coaches, studying, making sure I’m going to sleep, not up all night playing video games. It will definitely help. ”
Matthew also sees a benefit from his multiple stops in college.
“Being in different systems, being around different coaches, that helped me just stay present, understand the situation and be able to attack the situation at that moment,” Matthew said. “That’s definitely what helped me just moving and transitioning – just stay present.”
Matthew thinks his preparation for business management has an application in the NFL, too.
“As a manager, you got to keep yourself accountable before your team accountable, so overall just self-accountability,” Matthew said. “It will help me with that and potentially being a vocal leader someday after I get this thing down pat.”
The Cardinals have six Organized Team Activity practices and a three-day mandatory minicamp left on their offseason schedule.
Matthew was the only defensive back drafted this year by Arizona.
The Cardinals return 2021 starting cornerbacks Byron Murphy and Marco Wilson for the 2022 season. Cornerback Antonio Hamilton returns, too, after playing 29 percent of the defensive snaps last season.
The Cardinals signed cornerback Jeff Gladney in March shortly after he was found not guilty on a felony assault charge. Gladney started 15 games for the Minnesota Vikings as a rookie in 2020 after being a first-round pick, but he lost his spot on the team after his arrest.
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Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter at @ AMarkG1.