COLUMBIA — News of the latest injury suffered by offensive lineman Mike Matulis raises this question: Will the Boynton Beach, Fla., native play another down of football for the Gamecocks?
Monday, Steve Spurrier raised the possibility Matulis could return to action by midseason, but the final diagnosis of his injured knee hasn’t been completed yet. All South Carolina is saying right now is Matulis has a sprained knee and will be re-evaluated in the about two weeks.
This latest physical setback for Matulis comes just over a year after he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder, the second procedure of that type within eight months.
USC offensive line coach Shawn Elliott acknowledged, based simply on how the last two years have unfolded, if Matulis walked into his office tomorrow and told him he was giving up football, Elliott wouldn’t argue.
“A year ago. I told him, ‘Mike, if you want to give up football, I’ll completely understand,’” Elliott told reporters recently. “I had conversations with him a year ago, ‘Take the year off.’ I don’t want to see you. Go get healthy. Go get your mind right and we’ll revisit the situation and see if you’re able to come back and want to do it.”
Matulis indeed decided to return and, finally healthy, spent the spring working at right guard and had the starting job locked up entering Saturday’s scrimmage.
But an unforgiving providence intervened again.
His latest injury assures Matulis will spend most of the next two months — if not longer — in the training room rehabbing from the injury, away from the practice field, away from his teammates and coaches.
Undeniably, it’s one of the loneliest feelings anywhere.
“When you have two major surgeries like that, you distance yourself from the football team,” Elliott said. “I don’t know if depression is the right word, but you feel alienated. Then he lost so much weight. I was really concerned about him.”
Matulis fought back valiantly, regaining his strength and pushing 300 pounds in the spring. Now, has all that hard work been in vain?
“It was all on his shoulders and we wanted him to make the decision,” Elliott said. “If he would have told me he was giving up football, I would have shaken his hand and said, ‘Great, good luck, I’m glad you’re healthy, get yourself a great education.’”
During his conversation with reporters, Elliott was also prophetic about a player who was able to practice this past spring for the first time due to injuries.
“It’s always in the back of his mind that there might be another injury that’s going to crop up,” Elliott said. “Football is football.”
If Matulis doesn’t play another game for the Gamecocks, he’ll depart Columbia with 10 career starts, all of them at left or right tackle.