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Matter Of Style

Hart quarterback, who is headed to Stanford, isn't a Kyle Boller clone, but he gets the job done all the same.

August 23, 2000|ERIC SONDHEIMER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEWHALL — Kyle Matter was born 17 years ago in a Kansas City hospital on the border of Missouri and Kansas.

He's never seen a tornado, but the "Wizard of Oz" comes to mind in describing the commotion swirling around the quarterback last season on the night of his debut for Hart High.

Pressure had been building all summer. He was the replacement for All-American Kyle Boller, the greatest passer in Hart history.

Matter was lined up in shotgun formation on the third play. He was so nervous his knees were shaking.

With receivers covered and linemen closing in, Matter scrambled from the pocket and started running down field.

"Everything was going 100 mph," he recalled.

Unlike Dorothy, who faced the Wicked Witch of the West, Matter's pursuer was a Quartz Hill linebacker who proceeded to hit him on the chin, opening a gash that later required five stitches.

Instead of producing stars, that whack brought Matter back to reality. It was more magical than clicking his cleats three times. It injected clarity and confidence. His nerves calmed. His instincts, intelligence and talent took over.

He passed for 342 yards and six touchdowns against Quartz Hill. By season's end, he completed a school-record 67% of his passes for 3,774 yards and 48 touchdowns.

No longer were Hart fans asking, "Who's going to replace Boller?"

After a 14-0 season, the question was, "How good is Matter?"

Stanford provided an answer, offering Matter a scholarship last May that he quickly accepted.

With a 4.5 grade-point average, 1,460 score on the Scholastic Assessment Test and a year's varsity experience behind him, Matter is ready to build on his glittering accomplishments in his senior season.

"It's been amazing everything that's happened to me," he said. "This year is a totally different outlook. It doesn't feel like there's as much pressure."

Replacing a legendary quarterback is no easy task. Matter's assignment was as perilous as Kevin Jan taking over for John Elway at Granada Hills High in 1979.

When everyone is used to seeing balls thrown like a frozen rope, unfair comparisons are inevitable. Negative vibes can be destructive for a teenager's ego. Jan somehow endured the Elway comparisons and ended up earning a scholarship to Cal State Fullerton.

Boller, who passed for a state-record 4,841 yards and 59 touchdowns with Elway-like arm strength, made it difficult for future Hart quarterbacks because he left many indelible impressions.

Who's supposed to replicate such feats as completing 15 consecutive passes against St. Francis, throwing spirals farther than anyone had seen and completing a miracle Hail Mary pass on the final play of the 1999 Shrine All-Star game?

Matter took on the Boller mystique by trying to reduce expectations.

"I can't be the next Kyle Boller," he said. "I have to be the next Kyle Matter."

Behind the scenes, Matter was feeling pressure.

"I tried to play it down," he said. "That was the last thing I wanted--to be compared to Boller. He's great. I was real nervous. I hadn't played a varsity game. I was worried about living up to expectations."

In the end, he pulled off the improbable--he exceeded expectations. He quickly grasped Hart's run-and-shoot offense and ran it more efficiently than any quarterback in school history. He'd stand over center and make snap judgments on blocking schemes and coverages that only the best of quarterbacks master.

"He just plays the position so well," offensive coordinator Dean Herrington said. "College coaches love him because they can see how he runs things."

How smart is Matter?

He was reading by the age of 4. At 8, he was shopping with his mother in a Chicago department store when he figured out the cost of the items in her cart, including sales tax, without the aid of a calculator.

This summer, he taught himself to play piano after reading a book.

"He does it in his head," said Matter's father, Art. "His retention and ability to learn has always amazed us."

Mistakes happen, but he doesn't repeat them.

Matter did receive teasing from his sister, Kristen, who attends the University of Pennsylvania and scored 10 points higher on her SAT.

"I thought you're supposed to be the smartest one in the family," Kristen joked.

Matter has learned decisions made on the football field are not the same as in calculus.

"If you mess up on a calculus exam, you're not going to get hit," he said.

At 6 feet 3, 190 pounds, with 4.7 40-yard speed, Matter has the physical and mental makeup to excel. What he lacks in arm strength he makes up with accuracy and instincts.

"Look at Joe Montana," he said. "He doesn't have a rocket arm. Put him next to John Elway and he'll look like a weakling. It doesn't take a rocket arm to be successful. There are other intangibles to be measured."

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