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Matthews Finally Fits Mold

As a high school freshman, Clay Matthews III looked more like a water boy than a future varsity football player. He was 5 feet 5, weighed 125 pounds and intimidated no one.

By the end of his junior season at Agoura High, Matthews was still waiting for the growth spurt to kick in. After all, that’s part of his family tradition.

His wish has been granted.

Matthews, a senior middle linebacker, has gained close to 50 pounds in the last 10 months, leaving him 6-2 and 210 pounds. After being considered slow and uncoordinated because of his changing body, Matthews has dropped his 40-yard time from 5.2 seconds to 4.8.

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He used the summer to make big improvements in strength and agility.

One Agoura player was overheard telling an assistant coach, “I’m scared of putting on pads. I’m scared of Clay.”

Matthews never doubted the day would arrive when he’d develop into a quality football player.

“I knew it was going to happen,” he said. “It took a lot of hard work, going to the gym, running.”

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It’s a familiar pattern in the Matthews family. His father, Clay Jr., weighed 117 pounds as a high school freshman, became an All-American linebacker at USC and played 19 years in the NFL before retiring in 1996 to spend more time with his four sons and one daughter. He’s the defensive coordinator at Agoura and understands the trials and tribulations of growth spurts.

“You look like somebody put tacks in your shoes,” he said. “Not only are you small and weak, but you’re slow and in pain.”

Clay III didn’t start last season, but he could be one of the best linebackers in the Marmonte League this season.

His parents are having to spend lots of money on his changing wardrobe, not to mention his appetite.

“He just keeps growing,” his mother, Leslie, said.

Said Matthews: “I have to get new pants, new shorts, new shirts.”

Matthews wasn’t the only athlete who viewed the summer as a critical training time for improvement. Others making strong impressions:

* Mark Sanchez, Mission Viejo, Jr. He rarely played last season as a sophomore quarterback at Santa Margarita, but during the summer, onlookers were in awe watching his successful long passes to receiver Marty Tadman. Look for Sanchez to become the No. 1 quarterback prospect in Southern California for 2005.

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* Jason Forcier, Santa Ana Mater Dei, Jr. The Monarchs didn’t let Forcier throw too often as a sophomore, but he’ll have plenty of opportunities this season after a summer in which he showed he has mastered the offense and become a true leader.

* Ray Felger, Granada Hills, Jr. He’s a tight end making his varsity debut, and watch how quickly he becomes one of the best receivers in the City Section. Opponents struggled covering him during passing tournaments.

* Alex Stephenson, North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake, So. A 6-8, 200-pound basketball player with long arms, Stephenson became more confident and more coordinated with each game this summer. He’s going to be a dominant rebounder and projects as a top Division I college prospect.

* Taylor King, Santa Ana Mater Dei, Fr. He pulled off one of the greatest feats in summer basketball history, convincing UCLA to offer him a scholarship before attending his first day of high school. This 6-6 1/2 three-point shooting specialist is a gym rat who has no intention of letting older or younger players pass him by.

* Alexis Crimes, Etiwanda, Sr. No one has risen faster in girls’ volleyball. Once solely a basketball and track athlete, the 6-4 Crimes accepted a volleyball scholarship to Long Beach State despite only one year of experience. College coaches rave about her ability.

“She’s an amazing athlete,” Etiwanda Coach Jennifer Wright said.

* Drew Vassil, Reseda Cleveland, Jr. Vassil played in only five baseball games last season after having to transfer from Chatsworth for disciplinary reasons.

During the summer, the third baseman displayed exceptional hitting skills, batting .500 with eight home runs. He ended the summer with a four-hit performance against USC-bound pitcher Trevor Plouffe of Encino Crespi.

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* Matt Dominguez, Chatsworth, Fr. The younger brother of Chatsworth All-City outfielder Jason Dominguez batted .488 in summer ball and could be given a chance to play varsity as a 14-year-old. He’s an infielder-pitcher who might one day have better power than Jason, who has committed to Pepperdine.

* D’Arby Myers, Culver City, So. The 14-year-old outfielder with speed and developing hitting skills is one of the most promising prospects in the Reviving Baseball in Innercities program. He had two hits in the RBI World Series in Houston and went nine for 12 in another summer tournament.

Eric Sondheimer can be reached at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com.


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