Yetur Gross–Matos was in discussions with 29 teams leading up to the NFL draft—all except the Indianapolis Colts, Pittsburgh Steelers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. So whenever nearly every team was on the clock, the Chancellor High School graduate believed it was an opportunity to get drafted.

Gross–Matos’ former Penn State defensive line coach Sean Spencer now works for the New York Giants, which held the 36th overall pick. But it wasn’t Spencer and the Giants who grabbed the former Nittany Lions defensive end.

Two picks later, Penn State alum Matt Rhule—the first-year head coach of the Carolina Panthers—was on the other end of the line at approximately 7:30 p.m. Friday night telling Gross-Matos he would be selected in the second round (38th overall).

While wearing headphones in his family’s home in Spotsylvania County, Gross–Matos held his head down and told Rhule: “That’s a dream come true. Thank you, sir” while his family, girlfriend and trainer celebrated around him.

“It just was super emotional, man,” said Gross–Matos’ father Rob Matos of the moment his son was selected. “You could see it in everybody … They were all holding it in trying to remain calm, cool and collected. His trainer [Sudan Ellington] walked outside. He might have had to wipe his eyes. I might be the only one who straight up broke down.”

Gross–Matos was surrounded by family all wearing “Team Lobo” T-shirts in Penn State colors. Lobo (Spanish for male wolf) is the nickname given to Gross-Matos by his Penn State coaches.

He’s joining a Carolina team that has bolstered its defensive front. The Panthers selected Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown seventh overall and 2019 first-round pick Brian Burns is entrenched at one defensive end spot. Gross–Matos will have the opportunity to compete for the spot opposite Burns.

The Panthers became the first NFL team to use all seven on their draft picks on defenders.

Gross–Matos said he left conversations with the Panthers last week feeling good. Carolina also has former North Stafford and Virginia Tech kicker Joey Slye on its roster.

“I did talk to them quite a bit,” Gross–Matos said. “I had some video interviews with them over Skype a couple of days before the draft and I had a really good feeling leaving that meeting that it went well. Thankfully they ended up picking me in the 38th spot. I’m super excited. I couldn’t be more ready. I just want to go down to Charlotte and get going.”

HURRY UP AND WAIT

Gross–Matos will have to be patient. The NFL and all other major sports are shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Gross–Matos will receive a playbook from the Panthers and will have Facetime sessions with defensive coordinator Eric Washington. There will also be plenty of time to watch film in addition to Zoom meetings with the Panthers’ staff. The NFL Players Association and the league have agreed to virtual Organized Team Activities.

The Panthers were allowed to start offseason activities on April 20 because Rhule is a first-year coach. Returning coaches start OTAs on Monday.

The NFL hasn’t announced a plan for rookie minicamps, which are typically held a week or two after the draft.

Gross–Matos is considering visiting Charlotte to get acclimated to his soon-to-be surroundings. He’s never been to the Queen City but his family has spent time there for brother Robby Matos’ AAU basketball games.

UNC–Charlotte was the first school to extend a scholarship offer to Gross-Matos when he was a sophomore at Chancellor in 2015.

Rhule has shown interest in Gross–Matos before, as well. When he was the head coach at Temple, the Owls offered him a scholarship.

“I didn’t know he was the head coach at Temple back then,” Gross–Matos said. “I guess he’s been looking at me for a while.”

Rhule isn’t the only Carolina coach with Penn State ties. Panthers’ offensive coordinator Joe Brady is a William & Mary graduate who was a Penn State graduate assistant from 2015-16 when the Nittany Lions first offered Gross–Matos a scholarship.

Rhule told reporters Friday that Carolina general manager Marty Hurney identified Gross–Matos as a potential target early on.

“He’s somebody that had high sack production,” Rhule said. “Obviously you’re always looking for pass rushers. One of the unique things about him is he’s a guy that can get on the edge, he can turn the corner and he can go inside and be a three-technique and rush the quarterback.

“He’s a young guy. He’s only at the beginning of his physical development at 266, 267 [pounds]. I think he’s going to continue to get big and provide us with that strong body defensive end presence to go along with Stephen Weatherly and Efe Obada.”

COMMUNITY SUPPORT

Gross–Matos had been projected as a possible first-round selection, and his family was on edge after he wasn’t selected Thursday. Matos said he and Ellington hardly slept. They all traveled to Sterling for a workout Friday and that allowed time to pass by before the second round started. Gross–Matos had a good feeling he’d hear his name called early Friday night.

Sakinah Matos said the only word that came to mind when her son was drafted was “exhale.”

Gross–Matos gained more than 10,000 followers on Instagram and 2,400 on Twitter after he was selected. He had a plethora of family and friends offering good wishes from their homes.

Former Chancellor assistant coach Patrick Lilly said the Chargers’ staff when Gross-Matos played held a Zoom conference for two nights discussing the draft and memories of the player.

Spotsylvania County Sheriff Roger Harris posted a congratulatory message on Facebook.

“Everybody’s been wonderful. This community has been supporting me so much,” Gross–Matos said. “It’s been so much positive energy, not just from my family, but from people walking around my neighborhood. I’m just grateful to everyone that’s been a part of this process.”

Taft Coghill Jr: 540/374-5526

tcoghill@freelancestar.com

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