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"I knew I wanted to play at USC from when I was a kid," he says."The rest is a product of just continuing to work hard and being recognized for playing hard." Despite his conviction and family background, however-his father, uncle, and grandfather all played in the NFL, and younger brother Casey is entering his rookie season with the Philadelphia Eagles—Matthews' vision seemed a tad far-fetched to his friends in Agoura Hills, a dusty northern suburb of L. "I told him to go for it," says Charlie Wegher, who's coached football at Agoura High for the past 18 years, "but, honestly, I didn't think he'd get a chance to play much because USC doesn't typically have those kinds of kids." Depends on your definition of those kinds of kids."Instead of doing a ton of volume and always going heavy," he says, "we incorporated a lot more push-pull at a faster pace.Clay had never trained with machines before, and we do a lot of that."If you don't have a junior season, you don't get a lot of offers," Wegher says.

As predicted, however, playing time was nonexistent, except at the ends of blowout games, and he spent his freshman year on the scout team, the lowest rung of the collegiate football ladder. But even before his final college season, nothing was a given-not playing time, not a starting job, and certainly not an NFL career that's off to as prodigious a start after two years as any in history.In fact, he didn't start a game until senior year, and although he holds down his position competently, it's obvious he doesn't have the size, speed, or strength necessary to get on the national college recruiting map.You like the kid, though, and you're trying to figure out a plan for him to play ball in college, but pragmatism keeps taking over. Kids like this don't play on ESPN on Saturdays in the fall.What happens next, however, when the kid in question is William Clay Matthews III, the latest in an unbroken line of football royalty dating to the 1950s, is a declaration. The University of Southern California was, in 2004, home to Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, and dozens more future NFL players—a team that would win an eventually vacated national championship the year Matthews arrived armed only with a bad haircut and a dream."I don't even think Clay shaved at that point," says New York Jets linebacker Joey Larocque, Matthews' high school teammate and best friend since grammar school.

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