Sean Jones heard firsthand about the new Georgia safety making all kinds of noise this spring.
It will be 10 years this fall since Jones was an All-American at the same position for the Bulldogs before embarking on an NFL career that included stops in Cleveland, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay, but those in the program filled in Jones on the big potential of Tray Matthews.
Jones was a returning junior starter when Georgia played at Clemson in the 2003 opener in his final college season.
Matthews is in line to make his Bulldogs debut at Clemson on Aug. 31 in his first college season.
‚ÄúThat‚Äôs a big step for a young guy coming in as a true freshman playing at this level, especially in the SEC, but I‚Äôve heard nothing but great things about him,‚Äù Jones said.
He got word about Matthews from staff member Bryant Gantt and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who coached Jones with the Browns.
‚ÄúThey said he came in early, did a great job this spring and put his foot in the door and did well,‚Äù Jones said. ‚ÄúI think he‚Äôs up for the challenge. I haven‚Äôt seen him play yet, but the coaching staff is very excited about him. I‚Äôm looking forward to checking him out.‚Äù
So are Georgia fans who told Matthews just that Saturday at the annual Countdown to Kickoff charity event held at the Georgia practice fields. Current players joined former players in posing for photos and signing autographs.
Jones was among some 20 former Bulldogs ‚Äî including a contingent from the 2002 SEC championship team ‚Äî who returned this year to their old stomping grounds for the event hosted by former Georgia football players Matt and Jon Stinchcomb and David Greene.
Jones and Matthews stood together for some of the time signing autographs.
Matthews is atop the preseason depth chart at free safety and it would be a surprise if he‚Äôs not in the starting lineup against Clemson.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a humbling experience and, yes, I‚Äôm ready for Clemson,‚Äù Matthews said. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôve been working hard this whole summer and this spring. ‚Ä¶ I‚Äôm ready for it. That‚Äôs why I came in early and coaches had prepared me and got me ready to play for the first game. I‚Äôm just blessed to be in this situation.‚Äù
Matthews will play in a showcase, primetime, nationally televised game on ABC.
Jones, who now lives in Atlanta, will be watching. Now with his NFL career over, he finally has time to tune in to see the Bulldogs.
‚ÄúI watched every game last year,‚Äù Jones said. ‚ÄúThat was the first time. I actually went to the Florida game for the first time in my whole life as a fan. That was awesome.‚Äù
Matthews said there will be more pressure on him while starting strong safety Josh Harvey-Clemons serves a one-game suspension after a dorm incident involving marijuana.
‚ÄúI think it will,‚Äù Matthews said. ‚ÄúIt hurt me, too. It is what it is. We‚Äôre going to come prepared.‚Äù
‚ÄúWe took a little minor blow for that first game, but I‚Äôm not worried about Tray at all,‚Äù said sophomore cornerback Sheldon Dawson. ‚ÄúWe took him under our wing ever since he got here in January. He came in ready. I‚Äôm not going to look at him to be perfect, to have a perfect game. He‚Äôs still a freshman. He‚Äôs still a human being. He‚Äôs going to make some mistakes, I‚Äôm going to make plenty of mistakes. It‚Äôs how we bounce back from our mistakes.‚Äù
The 6-foot Matthews says he‚Äôs training at about 211 pounds this summer. He was easily recognizable Saturday wearing his No. 28 jersey, but the Newnan product said he is spotted even when he‚Äôs out and about.
‚ÄúTo be honest with you, it was kind of crazy in high school, too, when I came up here,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs still a little crazy for me, but I like to feel like I‚Äôm just a regular guy, though.‚Äù
The hits that his teammates kept talking about this spring showed he was no regular freshman.
One stood out, he said.
‚ÄúI think everybody knows what hit that was ‚Äî Justin Scott-Wesley,‚Äù Matthews said laughing about a shot that knocked the receiver out of a spring scrimmage. ‚ÄúThat hurt me.‚Äù