Seldom in the life of a writer does a person come along whose name so appropriately fits the character of the person in their field of endeavor. There are many times that a writer will look to find an angle about a person that really highlights the story, and the person’s name is such an ideal starting place to direct the narrative, but rarely does a person have a name that is so fitting to the tale; until now. With pleasure I introduce to you..Drake Matuska.
What makes this name so fitting is that it is a kind of oxymoron of names. Matuska is a Czech or Slovakian form of Matthew which means “gift of God.” Drake, on the other hand, is an English name that means “dragon.” For those familiar with the Bible, God and the dragon are seen as two opposing forces to one another.
Let me be perfectly clear before going any further. No one is implying in any way that Drake Matuska is some kind of demonic force. In fact, off the field he is one of the nicest person’s that anyone could meet. The biology major is seeking to be a family practice doctor one day, and in talking to him for just a few moments it is easy to see that patients will feel very at ease with Drake, trusting in the very comforting voice and spirit that he has.
He is the kind of young man who is called to help those feel welcome at St. John’s. The Johnnies football team is the largest group in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, consisting of roughly 180 players. This makes it quite difficult for coaches to get to know all of the team, much less the players themselves. Yet, Drake takes that challenge to heart. He feels called to reach out to the young players on the Johnnies, and to make sure he is available to them.
“I know it can be tough to be away from home, especially when you don’t really know anyone. I really make sure that I am approachable to the young players. I don’t want them to be afraid to talk to me because I am a senior. I talk to them about how their classes are going, especially if I had a class before that they are taking now. It is a good place to connect.”
Many would not feel compelled to take on that kind of responsibility, but that is the “gift” that is Drake Matuska. The senior linebacker didn’t just come to St. John’s just to play football. He came to the university because he wanted to be a part of something that went way beyond himself. He wanted to be at a place where the calling to love and serve others, part of the St. John’s mission, was lived out by the student body.
“When someone says they are a Johnny you know what that means. When someone says they’re a (St. Benedict’s) Benny you know what that means. There is such a great support for each other, especially in academics; it’s a complete help for each other that is almost indescribable.”
St. John’s was one of the places that Drake envisioned attending after he completed high school. His grandfather had graduated from the school, and his dad had taken him to games most of his life. He knew what a great school it was, and the culture fit him perfectly.
Football has always been seen as a gift to Drake. It is not only his favorite sport, but has given him the opportunity to enjoy the comradery that comes through the fellowship that one can only gain through the sport.
“There is no better feeling than going out and playing with your teammates. Not just in games but in practice as well. Those memories, those emotions that you feel. There is no other place that you can replicate them.”
As he has progressed through his football career, Matuska has more fully embraced the role that has been thrust upon him. He is not just a key member of the defense, but has become an integral part of the leadership of the team. This is a role that he embraces and takes quite seriously.
“I feel that the best way I can lead younger classmates as well as those my own age is by being the perfect example of what you should do. Doing the stuff off the field to prepare you to be successful in the game, doing the right stuff in the classroom, also doing the right stuff on the field to prove that you can be successful, both in practice and in the games.”
That is the Matuska side of the Johnnies linebacker. He is a soft-spoken young man who is such a perfect fit at St. John’s. That is certain, but there is another reason that he fits into the Johnnies culture. On the field Drake is a dragon. He is a terrorizing menace bent on breaking up offensive schemes and leaving offensive players wondering what just hit them.
His progression as a player has been a joy to watch. As a freshman he saw limited action. In five games he made nine tackles and recorded a sack. In 2013 he made eight starts, recording 48-tackles and 3-sacks, while also intercepting a pass.
Last season his play curtailed slightly as the then junior battled through some injuries that allowed him to start in just two games, and play in nine overall. He still managed 37-tackles, a sack and a forced fumble, setting up for a senior season to remember.
This season the senior has been everything the coaching staff could ask for and more. He is second on the team in tackles with 54, has recorded 3-sacks, 3-quarterback hits, an interception and 5 pass defenses/breakups. He has taken his game to a very high level, and is part of the reason why St. John’s is ranked 28th nationally in total defense. It has been an exceptional season, for the senior but, in true Matuska form, he isn’t taking any of the credit.
“Trusting the coaches and trusting my teammates. I credit all of the sacks and all the tackles I make on the guys in front of me and the guys behind me. If they’re not doing their job, I’m not doing mine. I credit all my sacks because of the play of our nose guard, Peyton Thiry, taking up two guys so I can come free. I really credit all that stuff on my teammates for doing their job so I can do mine.”
Humility is truly a giant part of the Drake Matuska, but so is a relentless fire to play at full speed. A lot of young boys grow up wanting to be Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady, but the Johnnies linebacker loves the confrontation that comes from defense. It is this warrior conflict that brings him the most pleasure on the field.
“I love the one-on-one battle, trying to prove whose best. There is no better feeling than knowing that you single-handedly dominated them. There is just no better feeling.”
This season Drake Matuska has been proving that he is the better man a lot more times than not. He has brought that dragon fire to the field and helped the St. John’s Johnnies to the No. 11 ranking nationally. His relentless spirit has aided this defense to excel and could carry them all the way to the National Championship.
It is true that Drake Matuska is blessed with incredible gifts that he brings to the football field each day for the St. John’s Johnnies, but he has proven himself to be a greater blessing to those he comes in contact with off the field. I don’t know exactly what kind of doctor he will be one day, but one things for sure. With that dragon’s spirit of his, no disease is going to defeat a patient of his. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were afraid to even try.
By Robert Pannier