Mike Matulis is surprised to be playing guard this spring. In fact, part of Mike Matulis is surprised to be playing football at all.
After missing seven games in 2012 due to surgery on his left shoulder and all of 2013 after surgery on his right shoulder, Matulis lost more than 60 pounds and thought football was part of his past.
Offensive line coach Shawn Elliott told him he would understand.
“I sat down and said, ‘Mike, I want to do whatever is best for you. You take the season off, and if you feel like you are physically ready to come back and play, I am all for it. And if you’re not, then I’m all for you sitting out and we’ll take care of you that way,’ ” Elliott said.
With Matulis on the sideline, Corey Robinson and Brandon Shell settled into the starting offensive tackle spots once manned by Matulis, who had dropped to 240 pounds.
“After my second surgery, I did,” think about quitting, he said. “It was hard. It took a toll on me, but I realized I love the sport and can’t give it up.”
Matulis, a three-star prospect from Park Vista High in Boynton Beach, Fla., probably was a victim of his early success at South Carolina, or at least his body was, Park Vista coach Brian Dodds said. Matulis played as a true freshman, starting five games and being named a first-team freshman All-American in 2011.
“He was thrust into that position earlier than expected, and I don’t think, physically, he was ready,” Dodds said. “He was talking about how his body was shutting down on him.”
Matulis now weighs 306 pounds, and his shoulders feel at full strength for the first time since his freshman year, he said.
“Oh yeah, my shoulders feel great,” he said. “I have been working hard, especially with the strength staff and the training staff. We have been doing a lot of rehab and a lot of lifting on my shoulders. I feel great and strong.”
“Sometimes,” Dodds said, “that’s what you have to do: regroup and rebuild.”
With Matulis rebuilt and Robinson and Shell entrenched on the edge, Elliott looked for a place to put Matulis. He has settled at least for now on right guard, where the Gamecocks must fill the starting role given up by Ronald Patrick.
“I want to see if he can play right guard,” Elliott said. “If he can, boy the sky is the limit for what we can do. Any time you get a guy with SEC experience, who has been in the battles, that’s strong, it’s great. He looks like he can play now. He is fully healed. We are really excited about having him back.”
Veteran left guard A.J. Cann thinks Matulis can make the switch.
“I think he can make that adjustment,” Cann said. “He’s a real athletic guy.”
The change has been a transition for Matulis, who says he’s still trying to get his “sea legs” after almost two years away from full contact football.
“He’s always been a tackle so that’s something new for him. I can’t tell you a definitive answer on how he’ll do, but he’s a hard worker,” Dodds said. “He’s going to do what is asked.”
Matulis has something that coach Steve Spurrier would like to see more of from his offensive line.
“He’s got a bit of a mean streak, and I like that in him,” Spurrier said.
Dodds often broke up practice field fights between Matulis and defensive teammates at Park Vista.
“Mike on a football field has a nasty streak,” Dodds said. “He is definitely going to bring an attitude to the offensive line.”
Elliott sees Matulis’ old attitude re-emerging this spring.
“You can see the sparkle is back in his eye,” Elliott said. “He’s got a smile on his face. He looks like a healthy monster.”