BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Even when Devon Matthews was an 8-year-old kid back in Jacksonville, Fla., he was already hooked on football. He loved the game, and everything that came with it — including the physicality.
One time as a kid, he rushed the quarterback and tackled him so hard that he knocked the kid's helmet off. From that day on, the name Devon was past tense. Ever since, he's gone by "Monster.''
And it fits.
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound senior has been hitting everything that moves ever since. He's been a steady contributor for the Hoosiers since 2018, and was a third-team All-Big Ten selection a year ago. His most famous hit in 2020 was when he jumped into the arms of his head coach, Tom Allen, after an interception and split his coach's face open.
Monster it is.
“I like the nickname because I know I’m ‘Monster,’ so I’ve got to go out there and play like one, play 100 miles an hour until I hit somebody.'' Matthews said. "I don't play with any hesitance. If I'm out there, I'm out there to help the team win. Whatever it takes. If you get hurt, you get hurt. You never know what will happen. You just have to go out there and play 100 miles per hour."
Getting an early scare
In the season opener at Iowa, Matthews zeroed in on a Hawkeyes target and lowered the boom. He led with his shoulder, but after the hit, he didn't feel quite right. He felt some numbness, and it kept getting worse. He went straight to the hospital from the stadium — and had to stay two days before he felt better.
“In my opinion it was just a freak injury. I was just going in to make a tackle, that was it. It was football and you’re going to get hurt sometimes,'' Matthews said. "Both of my hands were really tingly and numb. That was kind of scary because I never felt that before. A stinger, it will happen and it will go away. But it was lasting for hours. I was in the hospital bed still hurting like that."
It was serious enough that Matthews' mother, Monique Parker, quickly flew up to stay with him at the hospital. He didn't fly back to Bloomington until Monday, and even though he felt better, there was still some numbness in his hands. He missed the next two games.
"It was a little nerve injury, and it was kind of scary,'' Matthews said. "My mom, she was scared. She still treats me like a baby a little bit. She was definitely scared for me. Nothing ever happened like that before.
"But I feel good now. I fought through it. I’m just glad I’m back. I’m not worried about that now.’’
Playing like a 'Monster' again
Matthews said he's put the injury in his rear-view mirror and it won't stop him from playing the way he always does, flying around to the ball and clobbering everything in sight.''
He was missed, especially since the Indiana secondary has been dealing with a lot of injuries so far this season. Cornerbacks Tiawan Mullen, Jaylin Williams and Reese Taylor have all missed time, as has safety Raheem Layne.
"He's a great leader," Indiana safeties coach Jason Jones said. "Having his leadership back there in the secondary, that's huge. Just having his presence, it's big. He's a physical player, and he loves coming downhill, loves contact.
"And he's smart. When he's out there on the field, you can tell the guys are comfortable. He knows the defense. He knows what he's doing. He's a field general. He makes it alright."
Indiana linebacker Micah McFadden said the same thing. He and Matthews, both Florida natives, have been playing together for three years. McFadden loves having Matthews lined up behind him.
"It's great having him back,'' McFadden said Tuesday night during the Mike & Micah podcast on HoosiersNow.com. "It means so much, because he's a great player and it really helps with communication. He's loud back there, and I'm glad to have him back.''
Indiana is 2-3 so far, with losses to No. 2-ranked Iowa, No. 3 Cincinnati and Penn State, who was ranked No. 4 at the time. Indiana's defense has been good, but not great. After a bye week, their murderous schedule continues with home games against No. 10 Michigan State and No. 6 Ohio State.
It's a good time for a restart.
“That’s why I felt like the bye week was good for us,'' Matthews said. "It helped us get our minds right and focused. It’s the second half now, it’s a whole new season.
“I actually feel like, as a secondary, we’ve been playing pretty solid on defense. We’ve just got to look in, and stop them from scoring points.''
Allen mentioned Thursday that Mullen and Taylor as still game-time decisions. Matthews is hoping to have the whole crew back together, and start proving how good this defense can be. He remembers the Michigan State game from a year ago, when the Hoosiers pitched a 24-0 shutout.
“Everybody’s just got to get healthy, and I think we’ll be good by game time,'' he said. "If not, it's the next guy up, he’s got to step up. Michigan State, I wouldn’t say it’s proving a point because we all know what we came here to do, play against the best. We just have to go our there and do our jobs.''
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