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Vandals’ Steven Matlock remembers late mother, father ahead of Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

Idaho’s Steven Matlock, right, celebrates Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, in Las Vegas. (John Locher / Associated Press)
Idaho’s Steven Matlock, right, celebrates Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, in Las Vegas. (John Locher / Associated Press)

MOSCOW, Idaho – Steven Matlock remembers his mom dropping him off at college for the first time. He remembers how unhappy she was to say goodbye to her oldest son. Then he remembers getting the phone call.

It was December 11, 2013, four years and five months to the day that Matlock had lost his dad to testicular cancer.

Now his mother was gone too. Lisa Matlock, 52, had died unexpectedly from heart disease.

Matlock, a Boise native, had just finished a freshman season in which he started eight games on the University of Idaho offensive line despite joining the football program a few weeks before its first game. But his concern now was his brother, 13-year-old Scott.

“I knew he had to go into a foster family, and I wasn’t really comfortable with that at first,” Matlock says. “And I felt like I needed to be there for him.”

Looking back after an evening practice on Tuesday at the Kibbie Dome, Matlock acknowledges that it took two years, maybe longer, to sort through the emotions of his brother’s foster care situation. He still hasn’t had time to mourn his mother’s passing, he says.

But he’s OK with where he’s at. In his senior year at UI, the starting center has helped the 8-4 Vandals forge a path to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. He’ll play in front of family and friends – including his brother – on Dec. 22 (4 p.m. PST, ESPN) at Boise State’s Albertsons Stadium against Colorado State.

“… It’s been a long, tough journey to say the least,” Matlock says. “But I couldn’t have done it without all the family and friends that are coming down to see me play. They have done nothing but support me, as well as this Vandal family. They’ve done nothing but good things for me, and I couldn’t be more thankful.”

Scott has since been adopted by a family in Wilder, Idaho, and attends Homedale High School. He plays football, basketball and golf and works at a bowling alley. Steve loves his brother’s new family, and he says he’s focused on being a good older brother and role model.

Part of setting an example for Scott is showing that he’s learned from his mistakes. In June, Matlock was cited for allegedly stealing $42.38 worth of beer from a Moscow grocery store.

He was suspended from team activities for the summer, an absence that threw off the Vandals’ equilibrium going into the season, offensive coordinator and O-line coach Kris Cinkovich says.

“… Really in that instance, he lost his teammates’ trust for a bit,” Cinkovich says. “And as they’ve seen, he’s come back. And when he got going, I really think it helped us getting going as a unit in our O-line and really as a unit offensively. I think he’s a catalyst.”

Matlock has been a fixture in the Vandals’ offensive interior for four years. He was supposed to join the Vandals in the spring of 2014 as a grayshirt, but after a string of injuries in fall camp, the UI coaching staff asked him to come early.

He quickly found a spot at guard as an undersized true freshman. The last two seasons, he’s started at center after the graduation of Mike Marboe.

“I knew what he was capable of when he got here,” quarterback Matt Linehan says. “Yeah, he was undersized, but you saw the desire and determination in his eyes. He’s one of those guys who loved contact, loved football and wanted to win. The ultimate competitor. And those type of guys are going to win no matter what.”

Matlock doesn’t talk much in front of the team, but he “gives us our uniqueness – I think he gives us something with our front,” Cinkovich notes.

Part of the spice that Matlock provides to the Vandals comes from what Linehan describes as his “controlled-crazy” personality. When channeled the right way, Matlock’s passion on the field – which is similar to head coach Paul Petrino’s – is magnetic.

“He’s just one of those guys that everyone on the team respects and wants to have as a teammate,” Linehan explains.

Matlock’s teammates were with him as he processed his mom’s death and helped his brother cope. They’ve seen him mature, and they’re not the only ones.

“He’s had a setback or two,” Cinkovich says, “but … the way he’s leading and playing and taking care of his business and studies off the field, he’s really grown up. And that’s the part that I’m really happy about and proud of.”

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