All he wanted was a shot, and now Dan Matha’s got it.
Matha, an All-American offensive lineman from IUP, has been invited to Cincinnati’s three-day tryout mini-camp, where if he impresses the team enough, he will be signed to an NFL contract with the Bengals.
“I’m excited because this is one of the reasons why you play the game,” Matha said Monday evening. “You play because you hope to get an opportunity like this.”
Matha, a 6-foot-7, 310-pound Erie native, played in 22 games (all starts) for the Crimson Hawks after transferring from Pitt in 2010.
Matha missed the
first three games of the 2010 season because of a hip injury, but then started the final eight games. He missed all of the 2011 season because of academic issues, but returned last fall and was a dominant force at right tackle, anchoring a line that paved the way for two 1,000-yard rushers and was among the best in the nation in sacks allowed, with just 11 in 14 games.
After the season, Matha earned a truckload of accolades. He was named to the all-PSAC West team, the Daktronics all-region team and the D2football.com, Don Hansen NCAA Division II and Associated Press Little All-America teams.
Because of his stellar play, Matha started showing up on the NFL radar and he hoped to latch on to a team as an undrafted free agent. But no offers came in the days after the draft.
But Monday afternoon, Matha’s phone rang. It was the Bengals on the line, offering him a chance to show what he can do.
“I’m really excited about this,” he said. “I was kind of disappointed with the way the draft went, because some things fell through that I didn’t think would fall through. But I got the call today, and now I’m happy to have this chance.”
Matha reports to the Bengals on Thursday and the team will put him and other rookie free agents through some rigorous drills at their practice facility.
“I don’t know exactly what the drills will be,” he said, “but I’m assuming they’ll give us a lot to see how fast we pick it up.”
Matha’s journey to the NFL started at Pitt as a highly-regarded recruit. But when things didn’t pan out there after a series of injuries, Matha left for IUP.
Looking back on it now, Matha said it was the right choice.
“At times, I wasn’t so sure because it was such a big decision,” Matha said. “But I knew two things: One, that I wanted to play the game; and two, that if I wanted a football life after college I was going to need to play a lot, and that wasn’t happening at Pitt. At times I had my doubts, but in the long run, coming to IUP was the best decision I could have made.”
And now he hopes it will be a springboard to a life in the NFL.
“All I wanted is a chance to showcase what I can do,” he said. “Now I have one.”