HOOVER, Ala. — Saying Tray Matthews has some interesting relationships across Auburn football’s two biggest rivalries is an understatement.
The Auburn senior safety started his career at Georgia and was involved in the “Miracle at Jordan-Hare” touchdown that gave the Tigers a famous 2013 win.
Matthews also has close ties in the Iron Bowl, too. At SEC Media Days last week, he spoke of his close friendships with former Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster and Heisman Trophy-winning running back Derrick Henry.
“They both have played major parts in my life,” Matthews said Thursday. “They’ve kept me going and kept me driven.”
Matthews has been best friends with Foster, who now plays for the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, since middle school. Foster was once committed to Auburn and has a tattoo of the AU logo. He later flipped to Alabama.
Matthews admires Foster’s game, saying he even watches film of the star linebacker before he takes the field.
“I look up to one of my best friends, Reuben Foster,” Matthews said. “He’s one of the biggest hitters, probably the best hitter. He had a big influence on my game, because I always want to bring that massive mentality to my game. I watch his highlights before my game.”
Matthews loves to bring Foster’s headhunter mentality against ball carriers.
“I take stuff from Reuben Foster’s game, just because he brings that aggressiveness to the game,” Matthews said. “He’s not scared of anything. I try to make a couple of hits like him, which is hard to do because he’s a freak.”
Matthews’ friendship with Henry, now a member of the Tennessee Titans, also goes back to high school. The two former star recruits got along well off the field, and Henry supported Matthews when he was dismissed from Georgia in 2014.
Y'all pray for my bro Tray Matthews , we all make mistakes . Just hope everything turn out good for my boy .
— Derrick Henry (@KingHenry_2) March 18, 2014
Matthews has played 23 games for Auburn the last two seasons, leading the team with 76 tackles in 2016.
“Derrick’s played a huge part of my life,” Matthews said. “He was there when everything went down. He was there when I had surgery. Derrick always told me, ‘Man, just keep going. I know you’ve got it in you. I’ve seen you since you were in high school, man. You’ve just got to keep on going, baby, never give up.’ ”
Although Henry starred for the Crimson Tide on offense, Matthews said he also patterns some of his approach from the massive running back. Those parallels are more evident in the weight room.
“Derrick Henry, I just take that drive,” Matthews said. “He’s always working out. He’s always getting it, 12 at night. If I see him on Snapchat getting it in, I’ll be like, ‘Oh, I have to get me a workout in.'”
That mindset was evident for Matthews the night before he represented Auburn at SEC Media Days in Hoover. Before his long day in front of the cameras, he made sure to keep up with his friends by working out.
Auburn will hope Matthews’ close relationships with the former Alabama stars lead to some of the success they enjoyed in Tuscaloosa. Matthews personally wants to see an end to the Crimson Tide’s reign at the top.
“It’s been frustrating, and we haven’t been finishing like we’ve wanted to, of course,” Matthews said. ”That’s a big reason why we have that huge chip on our shoulder. We are ready to get after it. We want it bad. We want to win, we want to get the job done.
“Alabama is in the way of getting that SEC championship, and that’s what we want. We have to beat them. No ifs, ands or buts about it.”