Matt: Due to my size and natural ability, I always had a tendency to play sports and roughhouse with my brother a lot. Him and my grandfather really pushed me and forced me to play even when I didn’t want to. Also, my brother developed me into the tough person I am today, as he used to kick my butt all the time when we were younger. My family was always there for me though and helped me in any way that they could.
Did you play any other sports growing up; and how did they increase your football ability?
Matt: Yes, I played basketball and did Judo as well. Judo actually helped me a lot in terms of football. It really increased my balance, agility, strength, and leverage. Playing as a defensive lineman at a high level, where you go head-to-head against an offensive lineman who is 300+ pounds, you’ve got to know how to maneuver your body properly while charging forward in an attempt to get past him or bull-rush right through him. Wrestling techniques really help you develop a concept of where your body is at all times while knowing in the back of your mind where every limb of his body is going to go when you move him in a certain direction. It makes you that much more cognizant of how you’re going to get to the quarterback.
What are the important contributing factors to your success as a football player?
Matt: My work ethic is really what has gotten me to the level that I play at today. I attack each day with an incessant vigor to continually improve. I always try to outwork my opponent because I know that hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. At this level, each of us all have similar athletic abilities. Now it’s just a matter of preparation and who works on the little things repetitively to be the best in their respective position. I always work my tail off to increase my strength, size, skill level, mental awareness, etc. I put in endless hours on the football field, in the weight room, and during film sessions to improve in any way I can. I work hard at anything I do to be the best player and person I can be.
What was your best moment as a Wisconsin Badger?
Matt: Our 12-1 season in 2006, during my sophomore year, was really special. All the guys in the locker room pulled for each other and we just went out to each game like we had nothing to lose. We played our hearts out for every minute of every game and gave it our all. We put everything on the line for every down and the coaching staff was superb in getting us prepared each week. We didn’t give an inch on defense and our offense fired on all cylinders throughout the season. Winning in the Capital Bowl Game against Arkansas 17-14 was definitely a sweet way to culminate the season that year after losing the Big Ten Championship to #2 Ohio State.
Your most heartbreaking?
Matt: This past season was kind of a letdown after being ranked in the top 10 for a good portion of the season. We really were a great team with a lot of strength, talent, and depth up and down our roster, but had a real tough schedule this year in facing 4 eventual ranked teams. We had some heartbreaking losses in games like Michigan, #14 Ohio State, and #21 Michigan State where we lost those games by a combined 6 points. I thought we were definitively the better team in all those games, but that’s sports for you. Turnovers and penalties will kill any team, no matter how good, and we just didn’t execute the way we were certainly capable of performing.
How is training for football different than conventional training?
Matt: Training for football requires quick, short bursts of power. The average play only lasts for around 5 seconds, but where you are going all-out during those 5 seconds. The training has got to be in accordance to what you do in a game and then some. Conventional exercises like the squat, bench press, deadlift, and power clean are great exercises, but they’ve got to be done properly with good form and you’ve got to push yourself to the absolute limit. Going heavy really helps add on the mass and strength, but you can’t sacrifice form for the weight. For instance, ass-to-the-grass is a must on the squat. If it isn’t parallel, that rep doesn’t count. The exercises need to be implemented properly in terms of sets (lots), reps (low), and proper rest (varies). Additionally, doing exercises like strongman exercises and other sport-specific training helps a lot.
What kind of sport-specific training do you do?
Matt: The strength coaches really help out with this one. I follow their orders like a loyal dog. All of the routines are in Chip’s book: Football Training Like the Pros. Enclosed are real routines of NFL players like Champ Bailey.
What do you think is the single most important exercise that a football player could do?
Matt: The squat is definitely the most important exercise you could implement into your training routine. It is a full-body workout. Not only do your legs get fried, but your whole upper body is getting taxed trying to stabilize the heavy weight resting upon your traps. It is incredible for your core and if you’re looking to get your abs and legs super-strong so you can drive with more power and sprint faster, then go with the squat!
What is your advice for someone looking to make a name for himself and to take it to the next level in football?
Matt: Put forth everything you got to get better. Keep working. The results don’t come in a day, but the longer and harder you work at it, the more developed of an athlete you will become. Experience is really key with this sport and experience inherently necessitates hard work. Gain as much experience as you can by working hard. Once you do, good things will happen. Also, I notice that the harder you work, the more luck you seem to get with it.
How do you physically and mentally prepare yourself for a game and stay focused throughout all 60 minutes?
Matt: I just try to block out all of the distractions that come with playing big time college football. The crowd noise is deafening and the media is forceful, but I just try to get past that and look to play the game that I’ve been playing my whole life. I tell myself that I’ve been in this situation hundreds of times before and then it becomes easier to play at the level you’re used to.
Discuss your transition from college to the NFL. How is the playing style different and do you prepare or train yourself differently in the NFL?
Matt: It was pretty smooth. The veterans helped us out a lot. Training wise, it’s a little different. They aren’t watching us as much because it’s more of a business but they know we need to get our stuff done so we make sure everything gets taken care of.
What has been your most memorable moment in an NFL game so far?
Matt: I’d say when we were playing the Steelers and we were going shot to shot with touchdowns. And I remember they were kicking off to us and they were playing the song “Hangman” in the fourth quarter with a couple second left and the terrible towels were going and the bass was pumping so that was pretty good.
If you could pick one quarterback to sack, who would it be and why?
Matt: Tom Brady just because I’m from New England and it’d be great to tackle him.
As a teammate with All-Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, what makes the guy so special on the field?
Matt: He’s smart and athletic. He’s one of the fastest players on the team. If you know what’s coming and you have the speed to get there, then that’s how you make plays and then people know to stay away from him because of that.
What do the Oakland Raiders have you train that is different from what you did with Chip Smith for the NFL Combine?
Matt: Chip’s stuff was more geared towards getting ready for the Combine and what I do now with the Raiders is more specific for playing. Now I do a lot of core lifts like squats, cleans, bench. I do a lot of stuff for my shoulders, chest and legs.
Who do you believe is the best all-around defensive end in the NFL?
Matt: Statistically, I believe it’s Jared Allen.
Who is the toughest offensive lineman you ever went against or want to go against? Why is this so?
Matt: I always thought Joe Thomas was tough just because I played with him and learned a lot of stuff from him.
What’s your favorite thing about playing for the Raiders and about the city of Oakland in general?
Matt: I just like being on the West Coast. In California, people are really nice out here and especially in Oakland there’s a lot of things to do. I’m only 15-20 minutes away from the city so it’s not so bad.
How much and what do you eat throughout the day to maintain a proper weight for NFL standards?
Matt: We get breakfast, lunch and a snack during the week when we are preparing. At night I’d come home and make another snack. I’d probably take a nap until around nine and then eat again.
How has your family helped you become the person that you are?
Matt: They helped me with the way they raised me. If I did stuff wrong, they told me. They didn’t put me in a corner. Everything was handled right then and there. I got things that I needed but they didn’t spoil me.
When your brother passed away, what valuable life lessons did you learn and how did this motivate you to become a better person and athlete?
Matt: I learned that life is short. You got to live it up while you can because you’ll never know what could happen to you.
What do you enjoy doing on your spare time?
Matt: Shooting guns and hanging out with my friends and having a good time. Especially with playing football you don’t get a lot of time to hang out with them so I always like during the off-season to be able to come back and hang out with them.
What are your thoughts on the Gilbert Arenas situation?
Matt: You shouldn’t bring guns into the locker-room.
How is your lifestyle different as a college athlete compared to a professional athlete and is there any temptations with coming along with being an NFL player?
Matt: I think there was more in college. With the apartment building I live in now, I thought it would be sweet and there would be chicks everywhere. No, I live next to two old people and I think I saw one hot chick in my building. In college they are everywhere because in college people are more likely to know who you are.
What do you do in the off-season in order to get ready for training camp?
Matt: The main thing for me this year, especially since it was my first NFL season, I wanted to make sure everything that was bothering me was right. I took a few weeks to rest and then I got back into training slowly with dumbbells and squats without any weight and then doing agilities and stuff like that just to get ready.