Aug. 21, 2015

By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE — He’s lived with wide receiver Canaan Severin for several years, so Jackson Matteo couldn’t help but notice his roommate’s transformation. Severin dropped about 20 pounds after his sophomore season at Virginia, and in 2014 he caught 42 passes for 578 yards and five touchdowns — all team highs.

“When I saw what he did with his body and then obviously that he had a tremendous year last year,” Matteo said after a recent practice, “there’s no reason that I wouldn’t want to follow in his footsteps.”

The 6-5 Matteo, a redshirt junior, still weighs about 295 pounds, but he’s trimmed 4 percent off his body fat over the past few months.

Matteo, who works closely with UVa’s director of sports nutrition, Randy Bird, credited a “very dramatic change in diet and overall change in lifestyle. It was a complete 360.”

He ate more greens and more lean meats, drank at least a gallon and a half of water each day, and made sure to get plenty of sleep each night. “Covering all the bases,” Matteo said.

Severin encouraged his friend. “I told him, ‘I think if you do this, you could get over the hump yourself. You could have a breakout year yourself,’ ” Severin recalled.

“So the past three months, every single day, we dedicated ourselves. We dedicated ourselves with what we ate. We dedicated ourselves with how hard we worked and the extra work we’re going to put in. We dedicated ourselves with the sleep we’re going to get every single night.”

He focused, Matteo said, on “thinking about ‘we’ and thinking about ‘us’ and thinking about what’s best for the team. I think this summer was just a testament to how hard we can work together as one instead of separately.”

Matteo’s level of commitment impressed new offensive line coach Dave Borbely.

“Jackson had a great summer,” Borbely said. “He was very serious about his conditioning, how he ate, when he lifted, the drill work that he did. He was very conscientious about it. All of them really were, but he was probably ahead of the rest of them that way.”

A graduate of Broad Run High in Loudoun County, Matteo turned down scholarship offers from such schools as Temple, Ohio, Marshall and Ball State to enroll at UVa as a recruited walk-on. Matteo was confident he could play in the ACC and, perhaps, earn a scholarship.

As a freshman in 2012, he redshirted. In 2013, he came out of spring practice listed as the No. 1 center on the depth chart, and that summer head coach Mike London put Matteo on scholarship.

“The gamble paid off,” Matteo said, smiling.

He could not, however, keep his grip on the starting job in 2013, and looking back Matteo can understand why.

“I was young, and I didn’t really know that much,” Matteo said. “I had guys in front of me that were trying to show me the way, and I was very young and naïve. It was a ‘me’ game, and nowadays it’s about the team.”

Physically, Matteo said, he could have met the demands of the job in 2013, but his ego struggled to handle prosperity.

“You go from the bottom of the bottom to the top of the top, to the top of the mountain, and it’s a lot different,” Matteo said. “This is day and night compared to what I used to be.”

He started only one game as a redshirt freshman. Of the Wahoos’ other 11 games, Luke Bowanko started seven and Ross Burbank four.

In 2014, a larger role on the offensive line seemed likely for Matteo, who started at left tackle against Richmond on Sept. 6 and at center against Louisville a week later. But his season ended prematurely when, in Virginia’s fifth game, against Kent State, Matteo broke the fifth metatarsal on his left foot.

“That was a long recovery,” he recalled. “That was the whole season.”

He was cleared before the regular-season finale against Virginia Tech but didn’t play at Lane Stadium. “There’s only so much you can do when you haven’t been walking or running for a few months,” Matteo said.

In December, offensive line coach Scott Wachenheim left to become head coach at VMI. Borbely, who previously had worked at UVa during Al Groh’s tenure as head coach, returned in January for a second stint as the team’s O-line coach.

Matteo, who lives with Severin, quarterback Matt Johns and wideout Ryan Santoro, said the transition from Wachenheim to Borbely has been smooth for him.

“Both great dudes,” Matteo said. “Just two different styles of coaching. I can’t say enough good things about either one of them.”

As a redshirt junior in 2014, Burbank started 11 games at center. Going into spring practice this year, Matteo knew he was anything but a lock to earn a starting job. Burbank had played well at center, and Matteo was coming off an injury.

“I kind of had something to prove to a new coach, Coach Borbely, and the guys,” Matteo recalled. “I hadn’t been in there for a while, so I just wanted to show them that I could play again.”

Matteo quickly won over his new position coach during spring drills. And so Borbely promoted Matteo to the first team at center and shifted Burbank to right guard.

He shuffled the lineup, Borbely said recently, “basically because Jackson is one of the best five players [on the line] and I thought the move with Ross to guard would really shore us up inside.”

Burbank “looks pretty comfortable over there [at guard],” Matteo said, “and I think we’re jelling together pretty well.”

A sociology major, Matteo carries a minor in foreign affairs. He plans to graduate in May and then enter a master’s program in the Curry School of Education for 2016-17.

Burbank has seen a change in Matteo since the end of last season.

“He’s always had a great work ethic, but he’s really just cranking it up a notch,” Burbank said. “Extra film, extra study, trying to fully understand the position. He’s 100 percent on all his calls, and he’s really just taking his film study and that extra effort up a notch.”

The center is responsible, after surveying the defense, for calling out the blocking assignments.

“It takes a little getting used to it at first,” Burbank said, “but being a center, being in there and making all the calls, you kind of have to be a vocal guy, and you get put into that role whether you want it or not.”

The center’s voice must be heard over the roar of the crowd and the calls of the defense. That part of the job comes naturally to Matteo.

“I’m not really a quiet guy. I think my teammates can vouch for me on that,” he said, smiling. “My mom always taught me, if you’re going to say something, say it loud and proud, because if you say it quiet, no one’s going to listen to you.”

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