JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – He was a know quantity when it came to football. Speed, reaction, hands, determination and on-field presence. Rashean Mathis’ career at Englewood High and at Bethune-Cookman showed he could play the game. What was unknown was whether Mathis’ physical gifts would translate to the tough world of professional football. As a second round pick of the Jaguars, Mathis was a bit under the radar but not for people close to the game.
Had it not been for a broken leg as a senior in high school, Rashean would have been at Florida State. But after his injury, the Seminoles backed off a bit and Rashean’s mother said he was going to Bethune because they never wavered.
He was the first true “cover corner” the Jaguars ever had. He went about his business, never complained and was always accountable. Over his 13-year career, 10 with the Jaguars, Mathis grabbed more than 30 interceptions and had the ability coaches love: availability. Rashean played in 175 games in his career, starting 129 with the Jaguars.
“I always wanted to leave the game before the game left me. It’s the right time,” he said Wednesday at his retirement press conference hosted by the Jaguars at the stadium. Rashean signed a one-day contract to retire as a Jaguar, saying it was great to be able to do that at home.
"This moment is special. It's even more special to me as I stand in front of you because I'm not an emotional guy, but it's touching. This means a lot.” Mathis was joined by most of the Jacksonville media Wednesday afternoon as well as teammates, athletic staff and coaches during the celebration of his career. Teammate Maurice Williams spoke eloquently about Mathis’ career calling him the “ideal teammate.”
As thoughtful as ever, Rashean spoke a lot about being a “man of God” and how being a family man was an important part of “being a man.” He added he enjoyed playing in Jacksonville, close to home at first because he could stay close to his family. But he said it grew into seeing the impact he could have in his home community that really made playing here special.
Perhaps his most poignant statement was about how professional athletes are viewed once they step into that “pay for play” arena.
“We're not just numbers,” Rashean intoned, speaking without notes. “It wasn't just a '27' on my back. It means a lot to be looked at as a man. A man that might've not had much who has come into a lot needs to be guided. He needs to be guided. He can't be put on the track and told just to run. We need to be guided.” Mathis gave credit to a lot of different people in the Jaguars organization who helped him navigate toward maturity early in his career.
And when it came time to leave the game, he wanted to do it honestly, without hanging on.
"When I sign my name on something,” he said, “I want to be all the way there. I don't know if it would have been like that this year. I’m still in a competitive mode mentally. I still think I can lace ‘em up right now. But I’m not there any more.”
Mathis says the concussion he had last year played a part in his decision but wasn’t the overriding factor.
“I took it seriously. I became educated about it, adding that the concussion issue is real. “We need to embrace it, learn more about it.”
Leaning on his faith and his family, Mathis says he’ll spend his time in Jacksonville still being invested in the community and won’t be a stranger. Plus you’ll probably see him on the golf course on a regular basis. Mathis has worked his game on his own “to about a four handicap” but is currently in a golf academy where they’ve deconstructed his swing and he’s putting it back together. He’ll probably play in some celebrity pro-ams as well.
“It’s a way for me to compete,” he shared with the assembled crowd.
I was shocked and humbled when Rashean finished taking questions and thanked me from the podium saying, “Sam believed in me. He taught me how to be a professional: be on time, be prepared, do it the right way.” I had selected Rashean to be the co-host of our Monday night show “The End Zone” after a couple of years on the roster. He far exceeded any of my expectations. We did talk about how to conduct yourself and about life in general a lot but just like with your kids, you never know when they’re listening. I might have put some ideas in Rashean’s head but he put them into action.
Sometimes you hear things that really make sense when talking about athletic competition that apply just as easily in everyday life. I thought Rashean summed it up perfectly.
“I’d do it all over again. Hopefully I’d find God earlier and do a better job.”