Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Ex-Englewood Star Back Home

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Ex-Englewood Star Back Home

Article excerpt

Byline: Teneshia L. Wright, Times-Union sports writer

LAKE BUENA VISTA -- Seven defensive backs were taken before him, so Englewood High grad Rashean Mathis grew a little restless while he waited out the NFL Draft as a special guest of the ESPN Club at Disney World yesterday afternoon.

But the Division I-AA defensive player of the year kept cool, remembering that his hometown Jacksonville Jaguars told him they would draft him with their 39th pick if he was still available.

And, right before Jacksonville's seventh pick in the second round, the phone at Mathis' table rang and he received confirmation from Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio and secondary coach Alvin Reynolds.

"When the phone rang and it was them, it was a relief," said Mathis, who wore a white Jaguars cap and a dark blue suit with an orange shirt and a matching tie. "I think it's a great opportunity for me. I kind of knew, if I was still around, that I would be a high priority for Jacksonville."

"You can't paint a more perfect picture than this, coming home and playing in your hometown."

Mathis' 35 family members, including his mom, Oletha Mathis, and grandmother, Willie Paige, shouted "Jacksonville" and the club's patrons gave the player two standing ovations when his name and Bethune-Cookman College highlights finally flashed onto the screen.

Mathis, the second safety drafted, just smiled as he continued to talk to his new coaches and read a congratulatory message on his gray two-way pager from cornerback Marcus Trufant, the 11th pick of the draft. He and Trufant had trained together for 10 weeks in San Francisco.

When he finally hung up the phone, Mathis told the crowd, "I'm coming home, baby."

Mathis is B-CC's third-highest NFL draft pick. Former B-CC defensive lineman Booker Reese was picked 35th by Tampa Bay in 1982 and defensive back Terry Williams was selected 37th by the New York Jets in 1988.

Mathis' mother moved back to Jacksonville three weeks ago to be close to her daughter and one of her sisters after spending the last four years in Orlando to cut down the commute to see her son at B-CC.

"It's great. Now I can save some gas and stay off the road," said Oletha Mathis, who worked the Jaguars' concession stands to raise money for her son's Englewood basketball team during his sophomore year of high school.

The Jaguars plan to keep the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Mathis at safety, but they also will look at him at cornerback. He made a Division I-AA record 31 interceptions at B-CC.

"He's a guy with great range. He's a very productive player with the size and speed that we covet," Del Rio said.

Mathis also expects to play on special teams after returning a few punts for touchdowns in college.

"I just love to be on the field," Mathis said. "Regardless of where I play, I plan to make plays. …

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