R.J. Mattes could one day have an NC State award named after him for his selfless acts.
The fifth-year senior is poised to start at his fourth different offensive line position in four years, and has played through injuries during his Wolfpack career.
Mattes started at right guard his redshirt freshman season, before suffering an ACL tear in the eighth game of the season. He returned to action in the third game of the 2010 season, but switched to right tackle.
Mattes moved to left tackle for the 2011 campaign, and battled through a foot injury down the stretch, which only cost him most of one game, and part of a second. The 6-foot-6, 313-pounder underwent offseason surgery on his foot, which slowed him down during the spring.
Mattes wasn't sure what the plan would be for his senior year, but offered to play wherever coach Tom O'Brien and offensive line coach Jim Bridge needed him. Mattes was needed at left guard and it became that simple.
"They mentioned in the spring that they want to get the five best players and combination out there," Mattes said. "We were looking for a guard, and I told coach, 'If you need me there, I'll play.' I'll play there for the team and wherever they need me the most."
Mattes replaced last year's starter, redshirt junior Duran Christophe, who is now his backup. Reserve junior right tackle Robert Crisp became the new starter at left tackle, opening a spot at his old position. Fifth-year senior Andrew Wallace, who started at left guard in 2010 before tearing his ACL, is slotted to play right tackle this season.
"Rob is a great tackle and I support the move for me to go from left tackle to left guard," said Mattes, who will graduate in December. "Hopefully, this will be the best five on the field and we'll produce on the field."
Mattes and Wallace were part of the same recruiting class and have been long-time roommates at NC State. Mattes is glad to see his friend returning to his starting form.
"It's always good to see him back in the starting lineup and I hope he stays there," Mattes said. "He's one of my best friends here, and it's good to have him back healthy.
"He's switching sides and stances. He has to put his right leg back instead of his left leg back, and kick deeper than a guard."
Mattes said the adjustment to a new position isn't as complicated as it might appear.
"It's not really that big of an adjustment because I played [right] guard my redshirt freshman year, and I've now played all four positions," Mattes said. "It's not too bad. The sets are a little different when you go from tackle to guard. It's a little adjustment, but not as bad as going from guard to tackle."
If there was any offensive lineman in the country who knows the subtle differences between the four positions, it's Mattes.
"The positions are similar, so the guard has to set the depth at the pocket and you can't get pushed back," Mattes said. "That is what Coach Bridge always says. At tackle, you have to set the width. You have to set the pocket like a reverse C. It's just being firm at guard, and more of a dancer at left and right tackle."
Mattes joked that he knows what spot he would play next year if he had another year of eligibility remaining.
"I told [NCSU senior center] Cam [Wentz] if I had a fifth year of eligibility, I'd be playing center next year," Mattes said.
All kidding aside, Mattes' versatility could make him attractive in getting a job in the NFL one day.
"I certainly hope so because everyone has the goal of making the NFL one day, and I'm the same way," said Mattes, whose father Ron Mattes, switched from defensive tackle to the offensive line and played professionally. "I hope this will make me a good versatile player."
Mattes said the offensive line group would love to have a 1,000-yard rusher for the first time since T.A. McLendon in 2002 (1,101 yards). The Wolfpack have had just three 1,000-yard rushers since 1984. Cutting down on 33 sacks allowed and increasing the 104.8 rushing yards per game are two other goals for the veteran unit.
"Every year, and last year we barely missed it, to get a 1,000-yard rusher," Mattes said. "We have to work on the sacks things because we sucked last year, and the rushing yards per game was awful too."
Mattes and the offensive linemen set out during the offseason to achieve those group goals, and backed their words with actions.
"The new strength coach, Coach [Corey] Edmond, we worked to become a lot stronger, and did more squatting," Mattes said. "We want to become a more physical offensive line group. You can tell in the weight room, that everyone has become a lot stronger. We'll be a lot more physical group and be stronger in the lower bodies.
"As an O-Line, we worked together every morning and were up at 5:20 a.m., coming in to work out. The only motivation was to do better. You have to do the work. If you don't put the work in, you won't see the results on the field."