Former Cavalier playing in France

Published 7:43 pm Thursday, June 1, 2017

By Kevin Eckleberry

His football journey has taken him from Hogansville, to Valdosta, and now across the ocean to Europe.

Mat Mathews, the former Callaway Cavalier who enjoyed a successful stint as a football player at Valdosta State, is playing in the European Football League for the Thonon Les Bains Black Panthers in France.

Mathews, a defensive lineman, is in the midst of his rookie season, and he has helped lead his team to a 10-2 record.

Mathews’ season will end on June 10 when his team plays in the Euro Bowl, which is the championship game for the European Football League.

For Mathews, while football is football, this setting is obviously different than anything he’s accustomed to, but he said everyone has made him feel at home.

“Being here has been a blast,” Mathews said via Facebook messenger. “The people here are really nice and supportive. The team is very diverse with people from all over France and Europe. Our team is really a big family. We all look out for each other.”

At Callaway, Mathews was a multi-sport standout, and he excelled in football while playing for head coach Pete Wiggins

After high school, Mathews went to Valdosta State, and he was one of the team’s top defensive players during his final two seasons.

While his time in college was done following the 2015 season, Mathews wasn’t ready to give up the game, so he looked at different options following graduation.

For a while, it looked as though Mathews was heading to Australia to play, but the team in question ended up folding. Officials from that team put Mathews in touch with an organization in Europe that finds American players.

“He had his resume out there, his stats, and his highlight film,” said Kirk Mathews, Mat’s father. “This French team called him back in December wanting to know if he’d be interested in going over there. And he cut a deal with them.”

Mathews has been able to travel across Europe during his time with the team, all while receiving a salary, as well as a stipend for room and board.

“This last weekend he was in Nice, France, on the Mediterranean Sea,” Kirk Mathews said. “He’s been to Berlin, he’s been to Paris, he’s been to a couple of other places. It’s a heck of an opportunity for a 23-year-old guy.”

Mat Mathews said he spends a lot of his time with the other American players who are giving pro football a shot in France.

“I spend most of the day training, eating and hanging out with the other imported players on the team,” Mathews said. “I have had the opportunity to help coach the defensive line while being here which has been very fun as well.”