Kentucky coach believes wide receiver Chris Matthews has first-round potential.

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    Kentucky coach believes wide receiver Chris Matthews has first-round potential.

    Kentucky wideout Chris Matthews finds his safety away from Los Angeles
    By Brett Dawson • • July 12, 2010
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    Buzz up!Twitter FarkIt Type Size A A A Next Page1| 2| 3Previous PageLEXINGTON, Ky. -- Some days, all Chris Matthews wants is a taste of the authentic Mexican food he grew up loving in Los Angeles.

    Some nights, he'd just like to cruise down to Hollywood the way he used to, to gaze at the stars.
    But even as he sometimes longs for the comforts of California, the University of Kentucky wide receiver will stop to consider his good fortune in finding a college home in the Bluegrass.
    "Kentucky's a great place to be, especially if you're trying to focus on one part of your life," said Matthews, a 6-foot-5, 222-pound receiver who's focusing on a breakout senior season for the Wildcats. "It's a lot slower than Los Angeles."
    There's good and bad in that.

    As he prepares to enter his second season at UK -- he played two years at Los Angeles Harbor College -- Matthews admits that there are days when he's desperate to get back to California.
    Then he remembers why he wanted so badly to leave it.
    Matthews grew up in what he calls a "tough area" of South Central Los Angeles. He attended Dorsey High School, a place so deeply connected with gang activity that its dress code, according to the school website, prohibits students from wearing "excessive amounts of red or blue clothing," the colors favored by L.A.'s best-known gangs, the Bloods and Crips.
    "You couldn't go a day without talking about a gang," Matthews said. "You'd talk about football, and it's, 'What about this gang?' You'd talk about basketball, and it's, 'What about that gang?'"
    Matthews had "a lot of friends in gangs," he said.
    He credits football and his family -- his father, Darell Matthews, is a Los Angeles police officer -- for keeping him away from their influence.
    Last December, the Los Angeles Times featured the football program at Dorsey High and how it provides a haven from the streets.
    It helped Matthews, who can pinpoint the exact moment he fully felt Dorsey's influence on his future. He was with some teammates in the office of the Dons' defensive coordinator, Ralph Caldwell.

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    "We're in there, and (former Southern Cal coach) Pete Carroll walks in the office," Matthews said. "Coach Caldwell, he had every major coach's name in his phone. You start to see all these coaches, and it starts to hit you. We didn't have to stay in the ghetto. We could actually have a better life for ourselves."

    Matthews thought he'd start that life in Los Angeles.
    He planned to play at UCLA, but Matthews failed to qualify for freshman eligibility and instead enrolled at Harbor College.
    Though he'd played both sides of the ball in high school, he was recruited to Harbor as a wideout, and by his sophomore year he was one of the top junior-college receivers in America.
    Brett Peabody, then the Seahawks' offensive coordinator and now the head coach, told Matthews he could play big-time college football on Saturdays and in the NFL on Sundays if he got his act together.
    That meant focusing on the field and cutting some ties off it. Matthews began to pull away from longtime friends who'd fallen further into gang life.
    "I still love everybody that I hung out with and grew up with," Matthews said. "I still love them all. You just can't hang out with everybody, because you'll end up jeopardizing yourself, not them. You're the one that has something to lose."

    Matthews' focus paid off on the field. As a sophomore, he caught 80 passes for 1,235 yards and 11 touchdowns and drew considerable recruiting attention from Football Bowl Subdivision schools. He ultimately selected Kentucky, where wide receivers coach Joker Phillips, now the Cats' head coach, had helped develop Keenan Burton and Steve Johnson into NFL receivers.
    Matthews showed flashes of his talents last season, catching 32 passes for 354 yards and three touchdowns. Those were a far cry from his gaudy junior-college statistics, though, and Matthews admits he grew frustrated with his role.
    He remembers calling Johnson -- also the product of a California junior college -- and "crying on the phone" over his lack of touches.
    Johnson stressed that Phillips had Matthews' best interest at heart. He told Matthews to fight through it the way Johnson had during a quiet junior year before he broke out as a senior

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