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FAST COMPANY : Mathis, a Loner Off the Football Field, Draws Crowd on It

October 25, 1987|PETE HERRERA | Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Terance Mathis' abilities as a wide receiver run contrary to his human fiber.

The leading pass catcher in the Western Athletic Conference and the NCAA national leader in all-purpose yardage is by nature a solitary man.

"I don't care for a lot of one-on-one pressure situations," said Mathis. "I basically pretty much keep to myself."

It's the sort of haven the 5-foot-9, 158-pound junior from Stone Mountain, Ga., no longer can find on a football field.

As one half of the two most viable offensive threats for a winless University of New Mexico football team, Mathis rarely runs a pass route unaccompanied by at least two defenders.

"If there is a player that stands out offensively in the conference, it's Terance," says New Mexico Coach Mike Sheppard. "He is such a threat with the football. We play him at split end, tailback, flanker and even tight end in a spread situation."

Mathis' versatility is the primary reason he had led the nation in all-purpose yardage since the first week of the season, with a current average of 230 yards per game.

He also is the national leader in receiving yards with 725 and is second nationally with an average of eight catches per game. Through New Mexico's first five games this season, Mathis caught 40 passes and averaged 18 yards per reception.

The 333 yards he gained against Hawaii -- 181 in kickoff returns and 152 with seven pass receptions -- is the best effort in the nation by a Division I player this season.

Mathis is steadily closing ground on the WAC career and yards receiving records. Going into Saturday's game against Colorado State, he is tied for 10th in career receptions with former New Mexico wide receiver Preston Dennard with 142 receptions and is sixth in career receiving with 2,532 yards.

He has caught at least one pass in the 26 games he has started at New Mexico, has exceeded 100 yards receiving in 11 games over 2 1/2 seasons, and holds the school records for touchdown receptions (20) and yards receiving.

Mathis and senior quarterback Barry Garrison, the total offense leader in the conference, have formed a formidable combination this season, but have been unable to nullify the team's overall lack of depth and its proficiency at self-destructing through turnovers and penalties.

If nothing else, Mathis has found a home and possibly a future at wide receiver.

From his days of little league football in Detroit to his high school career at Redan High in the Atlanta suburb of Stone Mountain, coaches have tried to determine how to get maximum efficiency from Mathis.

He played defensive back, halfback and quarterback in high school, and was recruited by former New Mexico offensive coordinator Ben Griffith as a quarterback.

New Mexico had two returning quarterbacks, Billy Rucker and Ned James, in Mathis' freshman year, and after watching Mathis take a pitchout in practice and streak his way to a 60-yard TD, Griffith realized he was too good an offensive threat to keep on the sidelines. Mathis moved into the slotback spot in the Lobos' run-and-shoot offense, and the pass catching yardage began to build up.

He opened this season, under a new coach and a new offense, with nine catches for 191 yards and two touchdowns against Utah and two weeks later burned Arizona's secondary for 10 receptions and 160 yards.

"We just move him around enough so no one can zero in on him," said Sheppard. "We try to look every week for ways to get him the football."

Small even by college standards, Mathis is confident he can play in the pros.

"I've played well against teams like Tennessee and Nebraska, and I feel I can play with anybody in the country," he says. "I don't think I should be discriminated against simply because I'm at New Mexico."

Sheppard is even more emphatic on Mathis' future in football beyond New Mexico.

"There's no question," says Sheppard. "He has exceptional ability, very, very good hands and he can smell the end zone."

Sheppard, who coached current Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Charles Lockett at Long Beach State, said Mathis is better.

"As good as Charles is, Terance is a step ahead right now," Sheppard said.

But Sheppard says there is another side to Mathis, one which may ultimately help turn around the New Mexico program.

"Terance would be the first to tell you he is a product of the system and the efforts of other people," said Sheppard. "He is that kind of person and that kind of player. Right now he would trade anything he has, numbers and otherwise, for a win."

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