When Tyler Matakevich was a junior in high school, he met Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly at a football camp.
Six years later, Matakevich joined Kuechly as a winner of the Bronko Nagurski Award, which is given to the best defensive player in college football. Matakevich, a linebacker from Temple, accepted the award Monday night from the Charlotte Touchdown Club at the Westin Charlotte in uptown.
“I didn’t even think about (winning),” Matakevich said. “I never would have thought I could be in this position. It’s such a surreal experience.”
For the past two years, Matakevich’s linebackers coach has been Mike Siravo, who worked with the defensive backs at Boston College while Kuechly became the Nagurski Award winner in 2011 before he went on to stardom with the Carolina Panthers.
It was an incredible achievement for Matakevich, a lightly recruited player from Stratford, Conn., and he received the award three blocks down Stonewall Street from where Kuechly plays his home games.
“(Siravo) has told me a lot about how Luke would prepare and stuff like that,” Matakevich said. “He’s always telling me stories about him, and you see his success. He’s definitely someone whose game I try to reflect mine after.”
Matakevich is a big part of why Temple has been a great story in 2015. The Owls have won 10 games for the second time in program history, and he led a staunch defense with 126 tackles, including 15 for a loss, five interceptions and 4 1/2 sacks.
He beat out Alabama’s Reggie Ragland, Clemson’s Shaq Lawson, Penn State’s Carl Nassib and Duke’s Jeremy Cash for the award.
“Just to be here with these big-time names and guys from Alabama, Clemson, Penn State, Duke … It’s such a humbling experience.”
While the other four finalists arrived in Charlotte for the banquet, Lawson made it a long weekend after Clemson knocked off North Carolina in the ACC Championship game. That meant he missed the huge party with about 30,000 fans at Clemson Memorial Stadium during the College Football Playoff selection show Sunday.
“I asked to stay up here,” Lawson said. “I didn’t get to enjoy the pizza party. It was crazy. I saw it all over Instagram. I was surprised how many people showed up for free pizza.”