Kyle Mathewson is having quite the season for No. 4-ranked Saint Francis at middle linebacker.
The junior Churubusco product is tied for the team lead in tackles with 32, while helping the Cougars to three consecutive victories over ranked opponents.
But what is most impressive about Mathewson's season is that it is his first as a collegiate linebacker.
The 6-foot-2, 240-pounder played his first two seasons with Saint Francis at running before being asked to move across the line of scrimmage after last season.
He rushed for 271 yards and four scores a year ago, but the Cougars needed a man in the middle.
It was a daunting task, considering he was taking over the position vacated by All-American Brody Kalbaugh.
“Those are big shoes to fill,” Mathewson said. “I was really nervous at the beginning of the year, but I keep getting better.”
Mathewson was not totally unfamiliar with the position, having played it at Churubusco while being a two-way player for the Eagles.
But linebacker at the collegiate level is a completely different animal.
Mathewson began preparing for his new position immediately after finding out about the switch. He started putting on weight, eventually gaining 25 pounds. He approached spring practice as a learning experience, gaining a feel for the speed of the game and learning his assignments.
As the leader of the defense at middle linebacker, he also had to learn the assignments of others, but was helped by a schematic similarity.
“We run the same type of defense as we did at Churubusco,” Mathewson said. “That made it a lot easier to adjust.”
Mathewson has also been helped by the fact that he can use his running back skills while at linebacker. While playing offense, he knew the offensive line's blocking responsibilities and what formations meant what.
Now, he has applied that knowledge to reading plays before or as they happen.
“It all starts with the offensive line, if you can read where the guards are going, if they are pulling, line blocking or a zone read … you have the advantage,” Mathewson said.
Mathewson has been more than a little help on defense for the 5-1 Cougars, who will play their first unranked team of the season Saturday when they host Robert Morris (5-3) at noon.
The ridiculous early-season schedule for Saint Francis begins to lighten up over the next few weeks, but the Cougars are staying focused.
“(Robert Morris) is as good of a football team as a couple of teams we have played,” Mathewson said. “We have watched a lot of film on them and cannot look down on them. They will try and smash it down our throat; we need to match them defensively.”
With their new middle linebacker, the Cougars have a solid chance at doing just that.