Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in The Spokesman-Review.
Steven Matlock of Boise remembers his mom dropping him off at college for the first time. He remembers how unhappy she was to say goodbye to her oldest son. Then he remembers getting the phone call.
It was Dec. 11, 2013, four years and five months to the day Matlock lost his dad to testicular cancer.
Now his mother was gone, too. Lisa Matlock, 52, died unexpectedly from heart disease.
Matlock, a Capital High graduate and two-time team captain for the Eagles, had just finished a freshman season in which he started eight games on the Idaho offensive line despite joining the program a few weeks before its first game. But his concern now was his brother, 13-year-old Scott.
“I knew he had to go into a foster family, and I wasn’t really comfortable with that at first,” Matlock says. “And I felt like I needed to be there for him.”
Looking back, Matlock acknowledges that it took two years, maybe longer, to sort through the emotions of his brother’s foster care situation. He still hasn’t had time to mourn his mother’s passing, he says.
But he’s OK with where he’s at in his own life. In his senior year at Idaho, the starting center and second-team All-Sun Belt player has helped the 8-4 Vandals forge a path to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. He’ll play in front of family and friends — including his brother — on Thursday (5 p.m., ESPN) at Albertsons Stadium against Colorado State.
“It’s been a long, tough journey to say the least,” Matlock said. “But I couldn’t have done it without all the family and friends that are coming down to see me play. They have done nothing but support me, as well as this Vandal family. They’ve done nothing but good things for me, and I couldn’t be more thankful.”
Scott has since been adopted by a family in Wilder, and attends Homedale High. He plays football, basketball and golf and works at a bowling alley. Steve loves his brother’s new family, and he says he’s focused on being a good older brother and role model.
Part of setting an example for Scott is showing that he’s learned from his mistakes. In June, Matlock was cited for allegedly stealing $42.38 worth of beer from a Moscow grocery store.
He was suspended from team activities for the summer, an absence that threw off the Vandals’ equilibrium going into the season, offensive coordinator and O-line coach Kris Cinkovich said.
“Really in that instance, he lost his teammates’ trust for a bit,” Cinkovich says. “And as they’ve seen, he’s come back. And when he got going, I really think it helped us getting going as a unit in our O-line and really as a unit offensively. I think he’s a catalyst.”
The 6-foot-2, 270-pound Matlock has been a fixture in the Vandals’ offensive interior for four years. He was supposed to join the Vandals in the spring of 2014 as a grayshirt, but after a string of injuries in fall camp, the Idaho coaching staff asked him to come early.
He quickly found a spot at guard as an undersized true freshman. The past two seasons, he’s started at center after the graduation of Mike Marboe.
“I knew what he was capable of when he got here,” junior quarterback Matt Linehan said. “Yeah, he was undersized, but you saw the desire and determination in his eyes. He’s one of those guys who loved contact, loved football and wanted to win. The ultimate competitor. And those type of guys are going to win no matter what.”
Matlock doesn’t talk much in front of the team, but he “gives us our uniqueness — I think he gives us something with our front,” Cinkovich said.
Part of the spice that Matlock provides to the Vandals comes from what Linehan describes as his “controlled-crazy” personality. When channeled the right way, Matlock’s passion on the field — which is similar to head coach Paul Petrino’s — is magnetic.
“He’s just one of those guys that everyone on the team respects and wants to have as a teammate,” Linehan explains.
Matlock’s teammates were with him as he processed his mom’s death and helped his brother cope. They’ve seen him mature, and they’re not the only ones.
“He’s had a setback or two,” Cinkovich said, “but … the way he’s leading and playing and taking care of his business and studies off the field, he’s really grown up. And that’s the part that I’m really happy about and proud of.”
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
▪ Teams: Idaho (8-4, 6-2 Sun Belt) vs. Colorado State (7-5, 5-3 Mountain West)
▪ Time: 5 p.m. Thursday
▪ Where: Albertsons Stadium (36,387, FieldTurf), Boise
▪ TV: ESPN (David Neal, Matt Stinchcomb, Olivia Harlan)
▪ Radio: 630 AM (pre-game show starts at 2 p.m.)
▪ Tickets: Available at ticketmaster.com
▪ Vegas: Colorado State by 13 1/2
▪ Coaches: Idaho, Paul Petrino (fourth year; 14-33); Colorado State, Mike Bobo (second year; 14-11)
▪ Bowl records: Idaho 2-0, Colorado State 6-9
▪ Series record: Colorado State leads 4-3
FIPB FAN EVENTS
▪ Monday: Bowl for Charity, Pinz at Wahooz Family Fun Zone, Meridian, 6-9 p.m.
▪ Wednesday: Mash Bash at The Village, Meridian, 7-8 p.m.
▪ 9 a.m.: Albertsons Stadium ticket office opens
▪ 2-5 p.m.: Tent Village/Fan Fest, Simplot Fry Feed, Albertsons Stadium west parking lot
▪ 2-5 p.m.: Tent Village/Fan Fest, FitOne Family Field Day, Caven Williams Sports Complex
▪ 3:30-4 p.m.: Tent Village/Fan Fest, Battle of the Bands, Albertsons Stadium west parking lot
▪ 3:30 p.m.: Albertsons Stadium gates open
▪ 4 p.m.: Pre-game activities, Albertsons Stadium
▪ 5 p.m.: Kickoff