For Southern California linebacker Clay Matthews III, the path to the NFL Draft has been a unique one.
Barely recruited in high school, Matthews walked on at USC, a team typically packed with blue-chip recruits. That's where his father, Clay Matthews Jr., and his uncle, Bruce, were All-America selections.
At USC, Matthews caught the attention of coaches with strong play on special teams. He earned the school's Special Teams Player of the Year award three consecutive years, beginning in 2006.
"For me, it's been a career of ups and downs, but I wouldn't change anything," Matthews said in a phone interview from Orange County, Calif. "I've had to fight for everything I've earned and it makes me play with a chip on my shoulder and realize what I need to become."
What Matthews has become is a possible first-round pick in April's NFL Draft. He has gone from a 166-pound walk-on to a possible first-round pick. Currently, he is ranked 20th among overall prospects by ESPN's Scouts Inc.
In 2008, his only full season as a starter, Matthews played the "elephant" position. The elephant is a hybrid defensive end/linebacker position that allowed Matthews to stand up at the line of scrimmage and rush the passer while still relying on his linebacker instincts against the run.
Transitioning from the elephant to 3-4 rush linebacker is an intriguing option for Matthews.
"If I was fortunate enough to play in a 3-4 system, I think I'd be an outstanding outside rush linebacker just because of my work ethic, my motor and I have a knack for rushing the passer," he said. "I think it's something I can excel in and I look forward to playing in a system like that."
Playing the elephant, Matthews turned in a 56-tackle, nine-sack senior season. That was good enough to get him an invitation to the NFL Scouting Combine held in late February. Matthews impressed at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, second only to Aaron Curry of Wake Forest among outside linebackers in the 40-yard dash.
His times — unofficially 4.59 and 4.63 seconds — were also better than Trojan linebackers Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and Kaluka Maiava. Still, unless agent David Dunn advises him not to, Matthews intends to run again at USC's pro workout day on April 1.
"Despite doing well in Indianapolis, I still need to compete and show why I'm the premier linebacker and why I'll fit with certain teams. It's just the nature of competing — it's what I was brought up to believe in and what Coach (Pete) Carroll has taught me. "
Matthews also learned plenty from his father. The elder Matthews made his name in Cleveland as a hard-working four-time Pro Bowler, playing in a franchise-record 232 games over 16 seasons.
What the father hasn't taught the son much about is the possibility of playing in for the Browns. At least not yet.
"We haven't really gone into too much depth about him playing in Cleveland," Matthews said. "Obviously he has some great memories of playing out there, but I remember very little of it being a kid. I know he'll always be in debt to the city and it will always hold a special place in his heart, as it does my whole family. "
The Browns didn't schedule a formal meeting at the combine with Matthews, but he said the team plans on flying him to Cleveland for a workout. Matthews said it's a trip he's looking forward to making.
"It's something that, if I'm fortunate enough to play in Cleveland, I would love to and just be able to follow in my dad's footsteps."