Alvin Theodore Matras was technically born in a barn in Adair, Iowa, (a story for another day) but moved to Papillion, NE, a affluent suburb of Omaha, at just 3 months old. He was undersized when compared to his siblings, but the physical differences didn't stop there. His mother, 3 sisters and 1 brother all had golden blond hair, were tall and lanky. Alvin came into this world with jet black hair that didn't lighten up with age, only getting darker. His siblings were light skinned, he was not. He was broad shouldered with glaringly huge feet that caused friends and family to remark that he would be a big boy one day. But that day was not today, and to Alvin, it felt like it would never come.
His love of sports came early and often in his sprawling backyard. It wasn't the open fields of the family farm his parents grew up on, but he had acres to roam non-the-less. His ball handling skills were one of the first things people noticed, even if it was in a negative light. "That boy can catch ANYTHING, but he never throws it back. He is such a pain to play with because he refuses to ever let go of the ball." Fumbling was never an option for Alvin. He was too stubborn to ever let someone take the ball away from him, and he sure as hell wouldn't be giving it up voluntarily. He was determined to wear the Scarlet & Cream down in Lincoln, and he was going to be the first 4 year starter at Nebraska to never fumble a single football. His life, his plans, and his goals were etched in stone as far as Alvin was concerned.
Predictions about him were right, he did grow up big and fast, surpassing his siblings very rapidly. At age 8 he was 150 lbs and running a hand-timed, sub five second 40. His freak athleticism was described as "un-Human" by virtually every observer. But Alvin was always a little different from the other kids in his area, and that wasn't just on the field. In fact, his big black frame would be the cause of many calls to the police from snobby neighbors. Always about a large black figure wandering the street in this predominately white neighborhood. Law enforcement would stop by the house often, reminding his family that Alvin really 'stood out', and that families with smaller children were worried for their kid's safety due to Alvin's large size. They went so far as to recommend that his family "keep him fenced in or caged up". Being rejected by the very neighbors he wanted to represent on Saturdays was tough on Alvin, and he took it hard. Being denied by area parents and kids led to him being more of a homebody most days. He stopped roaming the neighborhood in search of fun. His parents decided that public school wasn't for him, and the decision was made to not enroll him, he would be home schooled.
The one place you could always find Alvin was in the parks and fields that surround Papillion. Pick up games of tackle football were the one place where he felt accepted by others. He would zig and zag with his powerful frame, on a short and wide body. Most defenders couldn't touch him, and if the did, he almost always manged to keep his legs moving and refused to go down. There were rumors that Alvin's knees had never touched the ground, the only way to stop him was to drive him out of bounds. The problem was, once he got to the edge, there wasn't any kid that was going to catch him. His top end speed was said tobe on par with 'Olympic Caliber Sprinters'. He was a combo of Barry Sanders, Jerome Bettis, Chris Johnson & 80's sitcom star Gary Coleman. Untouchable, un-tackleable, un-catchable, and un-hateable.
After leading his teams to countless victories ("He might have lost once against a Bellevue West Squad" according to one neighbor), Alvin's last season of destroying local Nebraska kids and leaving them in his dust was upon him. At this point, you'd probably expect him to have countless offers from every D1 school, at least in the B1G footprint. But some academic issues were holding him back. A severe speech impediment, combined with what many called "outright illiteracy" would cost him big. After trying the JUCO route and coming up empty, even the SEC schools with their "non-existent academic standards" avoided him.
Then the day that every football player dreads, and prays never comes... came. Alvin woke up feeling stiff and sore. Probably from the hard fought wrestling match against all of his adoptive siblings and father the day prior. (Alvin won, of course.) No problem, Alvin had been sore before, just not usually this long. He'd get over it. A few days later, during a routine visit to his doctor, Alvin was diagnosed with Arthritis in his hips. "Not much we can do about fixing it," said his doctor, a 20 year vet in his field, "we will have to be satisfied with treating the symptoms and slowing the progress."
Just like that, Alvin's competitive football days were over. Not only was Alvin Matras not going to be able to go to college on an athletic scholarship, he wasn't going to be able to do the one thing that gave him more happiness than any other activity. He was understandably devastated. He refused to give up, fighting the inevitable, even against the doctor's and his family's wishes. While he took medication to fight through the pain, most nights ended with him lying on the floor, unable to get up to even relieve himself without assistance. Alvin, always one to lead by example, would still be, like most elite athletes, the first one at the field when it was game time. Even earlier if it was for practice. But things that started as just whispers in the wind were now becoming much louder and more frequent.
"Alvin lost a step! We can do this!"
Phrases like this were shouted across playing fields in Eastern Nebraska soon after. "He can't juke like he used to, stay in front of him and don't let him get outside." Even his top end speed eventually took a hit. Not many teams, amateur or not, are interested in a running back who can barely hit 4.8 on a good day. Alvin still refused to see the writing on the wall, or the toll it was taking on his body. He bulked up, adding 20 lbs to his frame and embraced the role of Full Back, and even as an extra Linebacker in certain run stop packages. He did have a brief resurgence in his new found defensive role, using his still better-than-average athleticism to take out even the best ball carriers right at the knees. However, his lack of discipline of the defensive side of the game, failing to wrap up and follow through when tackling, did lead to many heated discussions with his coaches and teammates. He went from All-Star... to Role Player... to Depth Chart security in what seemed like just a few months.
Alvin finally started seeing his future, and it was a future he didn't want any part of. He discovered alcohol after his parents unknowingly spilled a bottle of tequila that poured all over Alvin's dinner plate. No one even noticed. But Alvin did, and he liked it. Soon after, he would seek out alcohol anywhere he could get it, once even going through the garbage after a party and lapping up the leftover backwash from stranger's discarded beer cans. There was a long and cliche'd journey down a dark path that this author won't get into here, but the short version is: Alvin's strength and resolve came back to him, and he was eventually able to get through this depression period with the support of his family, .
After a great deal of time battling bitterness towards his once beloved Huskers, and really, College Football as a whole, Alvin came to terms with his depression. He found other activities that he could excel in and share his abilities with the world. He made a big splash in world of swimming, using those big feet to propel him through the water with ease, while limiting the impact stress on his hip joints. He quickly became the favorite athlete at every pool he went to. His once rejected appearance was now his greatest strength. Kids and parents would cheer for him before he even started a race. Arthritis is still a painful reality in Alvin's day-to-day life, but you would never know it from talking to him. He hasn't let it stop him from having fun and running around like any other healthy young man.
Although he tries to stay active, Alvin admittedly has packed on a few more "el-Bees" since we first took notice of him. He still makes it a point to play with the younger children and teaches them the ways of the game. Even today, many folks around the Matras household wonder what sort of impact Alvin would have had on the sport of football if his body had held up.
"His dimensions were just so wildly different than any other player at his position, I think it really would have changed the game completely."
"He was on track to be a real game changer, a Michael Vick-type revolution, or on a smaller level, how Steve Smith, Sr paved the way for shorter WR's like Antonio Brown and T.Y. Hilton."
"Alvin is a bowling ball with a diesel engine, a black bear with ninja agility, how to you tackle him?"
"Once the rest of the world gets a glimpse of this player, scouts and coaches will be scouring farm town across the globe, searching for the next "Alvin"."
"Eligibility, Smelligility, I don't want that kid to read books to me, I want him scoring touchdowns for my squad!"
Alvin Theodore Matras.
Weighing in at just 160 lbs at his peak, and standing only only 3'7", he could have arguably changed the game more than the introduction of the forward pass in 1906.
That is the story of Alvin Theodore Matras - the Greatest Running Back you've never heard of - but should. He's a damn good boy.