Clay Matthews’ signing with the Los Angeles Rams is being hailed as a homecoming for the 10-year NFL veteran.
But the truth is, the former Agoura High School (Agoura Hills, Calif.) and USC linebacker never really left.
He may have spent his football seasons starring for Green Bay, becoming the Packers’ all-time leader in sacks, a Super Bowl XLV champion and one of the NFL’s most marketable athletes.
But Matthews always returned home in the offseason to train locally with Proactive Sports in Westlake Village.
“To have this opportunity now feels great,” said Matthews, who was introduced Thursday by the Rams at their facility at Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. “I’ve been coming back here every offseason for the past 10 years.”
Returning to the area full-time will allow Matthews and his family to put in deeper roots locally, the linebacker said.
“From a football standpoint, it makes perfect sense,” Matthews said. “But, for me personally, with where I’m at in my career, having grown up in the area, living all of 20 minutes away from here, it made sense.
“We’re building a house out here. I’ve got three kids now. I think my wife was more excited than I was to sign with the Rams.”
As soon as it didn’t look like he’d be able to resign in Green Bay, Matthews turned his attentions westward.
“I put it on my agent … to try to get something done,” said Matthews, who signed a two-year deal with the Rams worth a maximum of $16.75 million. “Fortunately, the feeling was mutual, and they were very receptive to the idea. … It just seemed like a perfect fit.”
Rams head coach Sean McVay called Matthews and the Rams “a great match.”
“He knows what it looks like,” McVay said. “He’s been in an organization where they’ve consistently won doing things the right way. He’s been a world champion.”
Matthews’ signing continues a trend. He joins a franchise that has added veterans like Andrew Whitworth, Aqib Talib and Eric Weddle over the past three offseasons.
“Guys that have proven to be really good players in this league want to come here and help us contend for championships,” Rams general manager Les Snead said.
The 26th overall pick of the 2009 NFL Draft, Matthews is a six-time Pro Bowler with 83 1/2 career sacks.
He starred at USC under Pete Carroll on teams that played in four straight Rose Bowls from 2005 to 2008 after originally arriving as a walk-on.
He returned to the Coliseum for last year’s 29-27 Packers loss in L.A.
“It was great to get back out there, obviously having played at the Coliseum the last time in maybe 2008,” Matthews said. “To come back here and play in front of the home fans and see the professional organization that’s come out here now, was pretty fun.
“I had a blast playing. It was a great game. I look forward to getting back out to the Coliseum and hopefully, in the future, that new stadium.”
But his connections to the area go deeper than just his time at USC. Matthews, the son of 19-year NFL veteran Clay Matthews Jr., was part of one of the most successful classes in Agoura High football history.
“Obviously, my dad was my defensive coordinator, so a lot of (the credit his development) has to go to him,” Matthews said. “But playing under head coach Charlie Wegher and the program he ran when I was there, we always had an outstanding offense.
“He took care of the offense, my dad took care of the defense and we had a great team. That kind of helped mold me into the player I was when I was able to go to USC and walk on there.
Along with players like quarterback Bryan Walker, running back Joey LaRocque and receiver Braden Lepisto, Matthews was part of a team that won combined 19 games in 2002 and 2003, reaching the CIF-Southern Section Division IV quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively.
Matthews said his best memories of those days involved the locker room.
“We had a good group of guys that kind of came through the Pee Wee ranks and went all the way through high school together,” Matthews said. “We had a really good team that fell short a couple of those years to some of the better teams.”
In 2003, Matthews was part of a defense that went 194 minutes, 41 seconds — more than three full games — without allowing a point in Marmonte League play.
Agoura finished second to Westlake in the Marmonte League in 2003, respectively, and fell to St. Bonaventure in the semifinals.
“The fact that we were able to string together those seasons was truly remarkable,” Matthews said. “It was a fun time in our lives.”
Those days were the springboard to his success at USC, which set him up for his successful NFL career.
“When he walked into the program as a freshman,” Wegher told The Star in 2008, “I think he was about 5-foot-7 and weighed about 125 pounds. You look at him, and you think, ‘Oh, gosh, he’s never going to get on the field. He’s too little.’ So to see where he is now — unbelievable. An unbelievable amount of improvement.”
Mathews and LaRocque, who also played in the NFL with the Chicago Bears, were honored before an Agoura homecoming game in 2011. Matthews has often donated to the program and other local football organizations.
“I know it’s not the biggest football powerhouse from around here,” Matthews said. “But I’ve always come back here and kind of remembered where I came from. That’s obviously Agoura High School in Agoura Hills. So now, planning to be based in Calabasas, the next city over, it’s great.
“I love it out here, it’s great. I look forward to raising my family out here.”