This story was originally published in the BYU-UCONN football game program on October 2, 2015.
Marc Brown, author of the children’s book series Arthur, once said, “Sometimes being a big brother is even better than being a superhero.”
Mitch Mathews would agree with that.
Mitch’s Big Brother
Most people don’t want to live in their older brother’s shadow. Not Mathews. It’s what he would prefer. The senior wide receiver is sincere and genuine when talking about his older brother, Marcus.
"My brother and I are best friends,” said Mathews. “We’re as close as family can be.”
The two brothers are the only kids in the Mathews family and are within two years of each other. Mitch looks up to his brother still to this day, just like a superhero.
It was that superhero older brother that brought Mitch to the BYU campus. Mitch was a standout baseball player in his hometown of Beaverton, Oregon. He was performing well, and it looked like he was heading towards a college baseball career.
“In high school I was 6 foot 5 inches, and weighed 185 pounds,” said Mitch. “That doesn’t look like a football player. It’s not the build you need to play football. So, I always excelled a little bit more in baseball.”
For Mathews, BYU wasn’t even on his radar of schools to attend for baseball or football. In fact, he claims that the family didn’t even watch a BYU game growing up.
However, that would all change when the Cougars recruited Marcus Mathews.
When Mitch was a freshman in high school, Marcus committed to play football for BYU. Mitch claims that they had never watched a BYU football game until Marcus committed to play. Marcus’s commitment would change Mitch’s game plan.
“Once he committed to play football here, I had a mental switch to play football here at BYU,” Mitch said. “I love the decision I’ve made. There are obviously ups and downs, but playing with my brother was the most fun time of my life. I’m glad I made the decision. I’m glad I came here.”
The brothers may be good friends, but the competition between the two still exists. Both Marcus and Mitch are wide receivers; so comparing careers is common between the two.
When Mitch was a sophomore at BYU, Marcus was a redshirt junior. The two were constantly joking about Mitch being just beneath Marcus in just about anything: from skill to age.
“So, you’re saying that a good goal for me is to have one less catch, one less touchdown and one less yard than you this season?” Mitch asked his older brother in an interview during BYU photo day in 2013.
“Yeah, I think that’s a good goal for you,” Marcus responded.
The comparisons also continue to their catches.
“My brother had a catch when he was playing here that was the top play of the night on SportsCenter’s Top 10,” said Mathews. “I had a catch at UNLV where I caught it behind the guy that was number three. He always gives me flack that I’ll never be as good as him, just because of that.
EDITOR’S NOTE: After this story was written, Mitch caught a Hail Mary pass from quarterback Tanner Magnum on September 5, 2015 at Nebraska to win the game. The play would later be the top play that night on ESPN.“He’s really competitive. Actually, we’re both really competitive,” Mitch said. We can’t play anything, especially bocce ball and basketball, without getting way too competitive.”
Mitch claims that the competition extends beyond football. It even makes its way into friendly games of bocce ball.
“He’s really competitive. Actually, we’re both really competitive,” Mitch said. We can’t play anything, especially bocce ball and basketball, without getting way too competitive.”The brothers split most sports, but Mathews said that Marcus knows his place when it comes to baseball.
“I’ll always beat him,” he said. “He knows darn well that I’ll always beat him.”
Mitch doesn’t look at their competition negatively, however. In fact, he tells us that it’s the attribute from Marcus he tries to apply most in his life. By watching Marcus have no fear, it’s helped him to look forward and not fear whatever comes his way, both on and off the field.
If there is one thing that Mitch contributes to his older brother, it’s his example that the path to success is not an easy one.
“Marcus has taught me that,” he said. “He’s never had an easy road, even when he was here. It was really tough, with him gaining weight, losing weight and an injury. He’s taught me that there is never an easy time in work, in business, or in family but you can still have success and be competitive. That’s one thing I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.”
BYU’s Big Brother
The numbers don’t lie: Mitch Mathews is a superhero.
The past three seasons, Mathews totaled 98 receptions for 1,348 yards with 13 touchdowns. He’s averaging just below 14 yards a catch. He’s making big plays.
But being a superhero isn’t the focus for Mathews. In fact, he has become more of a big brother to his teammates than a superhero. The senior has become a big brother to all those he associates with. People are quick to point out brother-like qualities in the wide receiver.
Even Taysom Hill refers to Mitch as a big brother.
“Mitch and I came in together as freshman,” Hill said. “To have the opportunity to play with a guy like Mitch for three years straight, you become more than friends. I’ve seen him go through injuries, he’s seen me go through injuries…we’re both always there for each other. We always look after each other.”
Not only does he take care of his team, he also lightens the mood as well. Mathews may seem serious on first appearance, but that side doesn’t stay long. His sense of humor continually shines through.
Mathews says that he likes to keep it light off the field to combat the tough guy persona on the field.
“When I’m on the field, I’m a different man,” Mathews said. “I like to be very competitive and fierce. But, there’s a time and a place for everything. You can’t be crazy about football all the time. When I’m off the field, I like to make us feel relaxed, happy, confident and ready to go. I’m the guy to keep it light so that we have something to look forward to.”
Mathews is constantly keeping it light, from after-practice routines to interviews. For example, this year at BYU Media Day, Mathews spent a webcast with Taysom Hill cracking jokes about everything from football to makeup.
“Eyeliner is my favorite,” Mathews said. “It makes my eyes bulge.”
It’s not all fun and games, however. Both players and coaches alike are quick to point out Mathews’s work ethic. Especially those who try to defend him every day.
“When we’re watching film, it’s always Mitch Mathews,” said Kelly Poppinga, outside linebackers coach for the Cougars. “It doesn’t matter where the ball is, he’s going to find a way to catch the ball. I’m always impressed.”
From Big Brother to Example
Most parents would tell you that the most important thing a big brother can do is be an example to his younger siblings. Even though Mitch doesn’t have younger siblings, he is one player who is a big example to his teammates.
For Mitch, it’s not enough that he is playing well. He is looking to have a standout season to leave an example behind for the younger players.
“This year, I think we need to maximize our potential,” he said. “I couldn’t stand it if three or 10 years down the road, I’m saying, ‘We had an awesome team, but I didn’t do everything I could as a senior to make it special for everyone.’”
Mathews credits some of his leadership skills to his mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Orlando, Florida, but he gives most of the credit to the example of his older brother. Mitch gives a special thank-you to his brother for his competitive nature and his football career, but also for getting him through football and life.
“I give all thanks to my brother,” he says. “Seeing him battle through issues never lets me give any excuse or give up ever. I got hurt, and I came back. I got a concussion and it all ended up being okay. Everything is okay because of all he went through.”
Essentially, Cougar fans have Mathews’ “superhero” older brother to thank for their wide receiver.
Marc Brown was right. For Mathews, an older brother is definitely much better than a superhero.
Mitch doesn’t have many nicknames. In fact, he told us Bronco Mendenhall doesn’t call him anything but Stilts.
“Not Mitch, not Mathews, nothing else but Stilts,” Mathews said. “It’s because I have these stilts for legs.
He may not have many nicknames, but he’s sure good at giving them. Here are a few of the nicknames he has given to his teammates.
Rickey Shumway- The Rickterscale
Tanner Magnum- Mangoom (said in a Spanish accent)
Nick Kurtz- Lil’ Nicky
Tuni Kanuch- Tuna Nood (short for tuna fish and noodle, a dish that Mathews like to cook)
Micah Simon- Bug
Akile Davis- Peanut
Algie Brown- Algorithm
Kurt Henderson- Dink (short for The Dinkle)
Travis Frey- Woody
Talon Shumway- Shumdog Millionaire
Moroni Laulu-Pututau– Macaroni
How does Mathews come up with a good nickname?
"You see them play a certain way or do certain things, and something comes to mind. Once you call them that and someone laughs, then it just sticks.”