FORT WAYNE – For 32 consecutive games, Will Matte lined up as Indiana’s starting center.
A knee injury in Week 8 last year ended the streak, but Matte did return to the starting lineup for the final two games of the season.
Matte is back for his senior season as the anchor of Indiana’s offensive line.
It’s been an interesting three or four years. The biggest thing going into my last year was learning how to lead more, Matte said at Big Ten media day in Chicago. We went through a lot of transition. Last year I felt like a freshman along with all the other guys. It was the toughest year out of my tenure here. This year I just have to be the guy who leads the offense, take everybody in and show them how to work.
Matte appeared in 10 games last season and made nine starts. He played a role in an offense that finished with 1,374 rushing yards in Big Ten games, the program’s highest total since 2001.
He’s a great person and great people work hard; they do the right thing. And Will certainly does that, Indiana offensive line coach Greg Frey said at IU’s media day. I’m excited to see how his senior year develops and how it comes together. See how hard he’ll push his teammates and how much fun he can have as a senior. It’s one of those things where you expect great things because he’s a great person. He takes it personal. You root for a guy like that.
Matte came to IU from Wheaton-Warrenville South in Wheaton, Ill. He redshirted in 2008 and then became a fixture on the line.
In 2009, he was part of a line that gave up just 16 sacks, which ranked tied for 28th nationally. Matte earned a spot on the freshman All-Big Ten team by the Sporting News.
The following season, the Hoosiers gave up just one sack per game, which was tied for 15th nationally.
A new coaching staff for the 2011 season meant adjustments.
This year, we all understand the technique that Frey is teaching us, Matte said. It was a tough adjustment, not so much physically or mentally, but he’s a very demanding coach. I think he’s one of the best. He drives home what he wants out of us. He’s demanding. He’s a good guy off the field. He’s excellent at getting the most out of people. He definitely did that last year. He’s only going to make us better from here.
Frey said Matte has gotten stronger, quicker and has a better knowledge of the game.
Experience can lead to instinct. Instinct can lead to better play, Frey said. That’s where experience comes in. That’s where knowledge comes in.
Matte is the veteran on a line that, on the starting depth chart, has one junior. There are seven sophomores and one freshman among the remaining lineman on the two-deep.
The biggest thing is leading by example, Matte said. You have to be the hardest working guy, the first guy in the last guy out, and setting the bar high.
It’s been a growth experience, but it’s also been an awesome journey.