The Georgia Bulldogs did not fare well in signing the Peach State's elite football prospects this winter, but they were never in danger of being shut out.
Safety Tray Matthews committed to Georgia after his sophomore year at Newnan High School and met the necessary requirements to enroll last month. The 6-foot, 194-pounder was rated by Rivals.com as the nation's No. 44 overall prospect and No. 5 within the state, and he was the only top-10 prospect from Georgia who signed with the Bulldogs.
"The whole coming-in-early process was new to me, and I didn't even know it existed until right before my senior year," Matthews said. "The coaches brought it to my attention and to my mom's attention, and we tried to see if we could make that happen. When Coach [Mark] Richt came to my school, he stressed that I do it because the safety position was going to be wide open with Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams leaving.
"They wanted me to come in and get a head start on things."
Matthews is the most touted of Georgia's 32 signees and may have the fastest path to prominent playing time as well. Rambo and Williams played a combined 101 career games for the Bulldogs and made 66 combined starts, and their backups this past season essentially began and ended with Corey Moore and former walk-on Connor Norman.
Norman backed up Rambo at the free safety spot, which is where Matthews said defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has him pegged.
"We are very encouraged about his development so far," Grantham said. "He's done an excellent job in our strength and conditioning program, and I think he is a guy who will really benefit from being here in spring practice."
Said Matthews: "I knew this was a perfect deal to come right on in, so I hit the weights hard and got faster and stronger. I also started learning the playbook so I could be even more ready."
Matthews, who was also a top-100 national prospect according to Scout.com and 247sports.com, made 51 tackles and two tackles for loss as a Newnan senior. He describes himself as a ball-hawking safety who loves to hit, so he wouldn't mind working at strong safety some, too.
Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed was the player Matthews most admired growing up, but then it became Eric Berry, who played at Tennessee from 2007 to '09 and is now a Pro Bowl safety for the Kansas City Chiefs. Matthews said he talks to Berry occasionally and is a friend of Berry's twin brothers, Evan and Elliott, a pair of 2014 prospects who according to Scout.com already have scholarship offers from Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU and Tennessee.
"Eric tells me how I'm a big safety and how he knows all about us Newnan boys," Matthews said, laughing. "He knew about Alec Ogletree. He knows we come out of Newnan with a bang."
Yet the player Matthews has conversed with most in recent months is Rambo, who is prepping for the NFL draft after tying Georgia's school mark with 16 career interceptions.
"We talked after every game this past season," Matthews said. "He always tells me not to be like him but to be better than him. He wants me to learn from his mistakes, because he got in trouble a couple of times, and he says he will work with me whenever I need help.
"He just wants to pass the baton to me."
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...