Only the Philipsburg-Osceola High School football team was keenly aware of big lineman Brian Mathews' absence on the football field in 2011.
This fall, P-O coach Jeff Vroman predicts, every team in the Mountain League that P-O lines up against on Friday nights will be just as keenly aware of Mathew's presence.
The 6-2, 225-pound Mathews - who was a two-way starting tackle at the outset of last season - would have been a three-year letterman for P-O this year. An anterior cruciate ligament tear that he suffered while playing defense in last season's opening game against Chestnut Ridge changed all that, however, and left Mathews on the sidelines for the rest of the 2011 season.
"It was one of those freak things,'' Vroman said of Mathews' mishap. "Somebody from the Chestnut Ridge team rolled into it, and that did him in. He's worked real hard to get back, and this year, he'll be flying under the radar a little bit. He's one of those kids that people around the league didn't realize was missing last year, but we did. They'll all be wondering where he came from this year.''
Sitting out last year was difficult for Mathews, who is raring to go this season.
"It was absolutely terrible [sitting out],'' Mathews said. "I love to play football, and I couldn't play at all last year. The team had a good season last year. We made the playoffs, and I felt bad that I couldn't even help the team.''
Mathews possesses a tiger's temperament on the football field, coupled with an agile quick first step that enables himself to excel on the line of scrimmage.
"He's got some of the quickest feet I've ever seen on a lineman in my 22 years as a coach, and he'll make us a quicker team this year,'' Vroman said. "He plays with a type of nastiness, and that's something that, as a high school coach, you can't just teach a player. You don't see much of that any more, but I'm glad he brings it to our side of the ball.''
Graduation wiped out virtually P-O's entire starting offense from a year ago, but with Mathews back, the cupboard is not completely bare.
"We have a really good team this year,'' he said. "We have a lot of good athletes, a lot of speed, and a lot of talent. I think we're going to have a really good season.''