Tray Matthews: ‘I’m going to be the next playmaker’

The last time Georgia landed a coveted safety recruit from Newnan High School, he lived up to his recruiting hype.

Alec Ogletree spent a season in the secondary and two at inside linebacker before declaring for the NFL draft, where he’s projected as a first-round draft pick.

Is Tray Matthews ready to follow Ogletree’s lead?

“That’s my plan,” Matthews said. “I’ve taken a lot of things from Alec’s game. I take a lot of things from a lot of the great safeties, too. Yeah, I’m going to be the next playmaker.”

The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Matthews is already in school at Georgia — one of 13 football recruits who enrolled early.

He’s in position this spring to make a run at Georgia’s starting free safety job after Bacarri Rambo wrapped up his career. Georgia’s other starting safety, Shawn Williams, also departed.

“I love the way Rambo played,” Matthews said days before arriving on campus. “Especially his junior year. He got a lot of picks. He was everywhere. And Shawn Williams, I love his aggressiveness. He’ll come down and hit you.”

Matthews fancies himself as being able to make plays on the ball in the air and provide big licks as well.

Matthews and another Georgia commitment, linebacker Johnny O’Neal, led the East with four tackles in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio earlier this month.

Matthews started the game at strong safety, but said some people in San Antonio at practice wondered if he was a linebacker.

“You’ve got to be big to hit those SEC running backs and you’ve got to be fast to cover those good receivers,” Matthews said. “They couldn’t believe my speed and how I could cover real well. I love to deliver big hits, but I also like being a ball-hawk and getting picks, too.”

Georgia is scheduled to begin spring practices on March 2, just three and a half weeks after signing day.

“I think I have kind of an edge because I’m going in early,” Matthews said.

Matthews will have 15 spring practices to show coaches if he is prepared to play and even crack the starting lineup. Former walk-on Connor Norman started the first two games last season when Rambo was suspended.

“Tray is a player that is physically ready to play,” said Chad Simmons, national recruiting analyst for Fox Sports/Scout.com. “He is a strong and physical safety that loves to hit. He is a striker at the safety position. He also has shown very good range and instincts on the back end of the defense. Ball skills are a strength of his as well.”

Being at Georgia already means Matthews will take part on the offseason conditioning mat drills, which start on Feb. 4. Not that he’s actually looking forward to it.

“Rambo told me a lot about them,” Matthews said. “I’ve got to be ready for them if that’s what I got to do. It’s going to make me better. I’ve got to suck it up.”

Matthews is the highest-rated commitment so far in Georgia’s recruiting class, according to Rivals.com, which puts him at No. 44 nationally. He is rated No. 99 overall by Scout.com.

He expected his transition from Newnan to college would be smooth.

“My parents have coached me up very well,” Matthews said. “I think I’m pretty much prepared. I hear a lot of people say you’ve got to keep your circle real small. That’s what I plan to do. Not let everybody get in my business. Don’t get a big head coming into college. Just stay humble, grind and be ready to play on Saturday.”

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