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Pack mentality

Motivation no problem for hard-hitting Matthews

Despite his NFL pedigree, Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews was a walk-on at Southern Cal. Despite his NFL pedigree, Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews was a walk-on at Southern Cal. (Derrick Z. Jackson/Globe Staff)
By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / February 2, 2011

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Text messages began popping up Monday evening congratulating Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews on being selected the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

A few minutes later, the congratulations were followed by apologies. Whoops. Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu actually won the award. An erroneous report on Twitter had mistakenly crowned Matthews.

“It was pretty comical,’’ Matthews said. “I got about 15 texts saying, ‘Congratulations’ and then the following 15 saying, ‘Sorry that you lost.’ It is what it is, bad reporting, whatever you want to call it. We have a great opportunity on Sunday to win a team award.’’

Matthews was two votes shy of receiving the honor in just his second NFL season. The outside linebacker punished quarterbacks by picking up 13.5 sacks during the regular season (fourth in the NFL).

He has set a number of team records and earned two Pro Bowl selections. In two years, the 6-foot-3-inch, 255-pound linebacker has 23.5 sacks, third-most in the NFL over the span.

The numbers may seem like the production of a high achiever, but Matthews said he doesn’t need motivation to strive for excellence. His track to the NFL has been well-documented, as a walk-on at Southern Cal to earning a scholarship to becoming a first-round draft pick by the Packers last season.

He is the latest NFL pro from a football family that includes his father, Clay Matthews Jr., and uncle, Bruce Matthews. And his younger brother, Casey, recently wrapped up his senior season at Oregon and is hoping to land in the NFL.

“Obviously, I was privileged as a youth to have a father who played in the league and have such a family history and be blessed with all that I have been given in this life,’’ Matthews said.

“I’ve had to work to kind of get out of the shadow of my family and I’ve been doing a good job of that. But it’s a good shadow to be in because they excelled in this league for many, many years. If I can have half of the career they had, I’ll be in good company.’’

With such genes, there was curiosity about what Matthews could do at the NFL level. Packers general manager Ted Thompson returned from watching a USC workout in the fall of 2008 and was most excited about Matthews. Thompson had been a teammate of Bruce Matthews with the Houston Oilers.

“He is somebody we had very high on the board, and we had the opportunity to draft B.J. [Raji] early in the first round, and right after that, we worked the board to make sure we were in position to try and go get Clay,’’ said Packers coach Mike McCarthy. “That was the plan a couple of days before the draft.’’

The plan worked, and the Packers selected Matthews with the 26th overall pick.

“I don’t think I’d be in the position I’m at today if it weren’t for all the setbacks and whatnot, people telling me I couldn’t do it,’’ said Matthews. “It’s kind of what drives me to be great and I think that’s what it’s going to continue to do.’’

Now Matthews is watching his younger brother begin the draft process. Casey Matthews, who is 6 feet 1 inch and 232 pounds, is a linebacker at Oregon and just played in the Senior Bowl.

He had a team-best 79 tackles this season (nine for losses), plus three interceptions.

“It’s really fun to watch my little brother kind of grow up and go through everything I did,’’ Matthews said. “I’ve always been very supportive of him and try to help him out in any way possible.

“It’s great with him finishing up this week at the Senior Bowl. I think he had a great week down there and I’m hoping for the best for him in this draft.

“I’ll be another fan of whatever team picks him up. Who knows? It could be the Green Bay Packers. He’s a great player and he’s going to have a great opportunity to play in this league.’’

But this week, the attention will be on Clay Matthews as he prepares for his first Super Bowl.

Matthews is making the most of the experience and even signed a deal to endorse Suave shampoo for men.

The subject of his long, blond hair came up often during Super Bowl media day at Cowboys Stadium yesterday, and Matthews didn’t miss a chance to have fun with it.

“Troy may have won Defensive Player of the Year and that’s great, but there’s no doubt that I won best hair in the game on the defensive side,’’ Matthews said. “I’m really happy about it. I think it’s a unanimous decision.

“It’s great that we can have some hair endorsements and have some fun with it.’’

Monique Walker of the Globe staff can be reached at mwalker@globe.com.

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