Yetur Gross-Matos was too young to have any recollection of the first tragedy that impacted his life.
He had just turned 2-years-old when his biological father, Michael Gross, drowned in a boating accident in Maryland at age 29.
When Yetur was 11, he and his family were at Lee Hill Park in Spotsylvania County for a Little League baseball game. During a weather delay, lightning struck and killed his older brother, Chelal.
Chelal was 12-years-old.
“Losing a son, you never move on,” said Yetur’s mother Sakinah Matos. “Day by day we just live with the pain.”
Yetur has internalized that pain and used it as motivation to become a blossoming football star at Chancellor High School.
The rising junior is 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds. He has 10 Football Bowl Subdivision scholarship offers with many more expected to come.
He prefers not to talk in detail about the loss of his brother, but he said it fuels him as he hopes to help lead Chancellor to its first winning season since 2012 and increase his college stock in the process.
“I always try to wear No. 5 because that was his number,” Yetur said. “This season I plan to wear No. 55 because that’s five for him and five for me.”
LIVES CHANGED FOREVER
June 3, 2009, began just like many other late spring evenings for the Gross–Matos family.
Rob Matos, who married Sakinah in 2005 and legally adopted the three children from her union with Gross, was the coach of the Spotsylvania Little League Yankees.
Chelal was his starting second baseman and Yetur played outfield. Sakinah Matos was present and so was her father-in-law. Younger son Robby was also there, while oldest daughter Qeturah stayed home to baby-sit little sister Cristina.
Chelal initially had forgotten his cleats at home.
“I’m like ‘You’re going to play barefooted because you’re my starting second baseman,’” Rob Matos recalled. “So his mom brought his shoes.”
Chelal batted leadoff.
He reached base, and stole second and third before scoring the game’s only run on a wild pitch. Play was halted shortly afterward when thunderclouds were spotted from a distance.
As Sakinah Matos rounded up Yetur and Robby, Chelal asked if he could play catch with teammate Jonathan Colson.
“I wasn’t paying attention and he grabbed the ball and walked off,” Rob Matos said. “My wife was like ‘Chelal, what are you doing?’ He said ‘Dad said’ and I’m like ‘Dad said what? Dad didn’t say anything.’ He was like ‘Come on, we just want to throw the ball around.’”
When Sakinah Matos moved forward to corral Chelal, she and others were knocked to the ground.
“It felt like I was hit by a hammer,” she said.
Rob Matos’ father had his hat knocked off. As the group gathered itself someone shouted “the boys!”
“We turned around and they were right there on the field,” Sakinah Matos said. “Their heads were joined.”
Rob Matos attempted to revive Chelal, but he was pronounced dead shortly after he was taken to Mary Washington Hospital. Jonathan, who had the hair burned off his head and burns on his legs, recovered from his injuries after a strenuous rehabilitation process. He’s now a rising senior at Spotsylvania High School.
Rob Matos said everyone was affected by Chelal’s death. He and Yetur were particularly close. They shared a bedroom and loved playing various sports together.
Rob Matos said Yetur became more concerned for his family after the loss of his brother.
“It takes a lot to get Yetur to open up,” Rob Matos said. “He dealt with it in his own way. It impacted his attitude and behavior. He wasn’t the same kid.”
SIGNS AT BIRTH
Rob Matos believes Chelal would’ve become quite the baseball player. He was a bit pudgy but flashed defensive skills in the middle infield and was quick.
Sakinah Matos believes the “bread basket” in his midsection would’ve eventually stretched as he grew.
She has good reason to believe that, given Yetur’s stature.
Early on it was obvious he would possess uncommon size.
He was unable to wear shoes until he was 1 year old because his feet were too wide.
“He was always off the growth chart since birth,” Sakinah Matos said. “So I knew he was going to be a big boy.”
Rob and Sakinah Matos met when both were enrolled in the Metropolitan Police Academy in Washington.
When Rob Matos entered the family’s life, Yetur was 3 years old.
Chelal began playing youth sports when he was in second grade. Yetur didn’t start until he was 10.
Rob Matos coached them in basketball and baseball. He said Yetur could “hit the ball a mile” but wasn’t a natural baseball player. They used his speed to pinch run but realized early on baseball wasn’t his niche.
On the basketball court, Yetur was always the biggest kid out there. It was a familiar position for him. At school, he was often called a “monster” because of his size and came home upset.
Despite that size he gave up football early on because he didn’t like to tackle.
“He was my gentle giant,” Sakinah Matos said.
When Yetur reached eighth grade he suddenly wanted to be as active as possible. He even showed up for volleyball tryouts at Freedom Middle School but had to call his mother to pick him up when he realized it was a girls team.
Yetur also rediscovered football and was an immediate hit. His size and speed overpowered many opponents.
Still, his mother wasn’t completely sold.
“I didn’t want him to get hurt,” Sakinah Matos said. “But he said ‘Mom this is what I want to do.’ If my kids have the drive and the passion for something I’m all for it. I just say my prayers.”
A QUICK STUDY
It didn’t take long for Yetur to make an impression at Chancellor.
When Chargers head coach Bob Oliver first spotted the lanky and speedy freshman he assumed he would be a big-play wide receiver.
Instead Yetur gravitated to the offensive and defensive lines.
He flashed potential immediately at defensive end. As a freshman in summer workouts, he held his own against former Chancellor standout offensive tackle Steven Moss, who was a four-star recruit and is now a redshirt freshman at the University of Virginia.
Rob Matos knew his son would be asked to play varsity as a freshman.
Yetur and several other Chancellor freshmen started for the Chargers in their first year of high school. The Chargers struggled to a 1–9 campaign but were building for the future.
The group matured a bit last season and the Chargers finished with three victories. Yetur said his breakout game was a 16-tackle performance in a loss to Eastern View. He recorded four sacks in a win over Spotsylvania.
Still, the recruiting attention that followed in the next several months took him and his family aback.
“It’s been unreal,” Yetur said. “I didn’t have much confidence in my abilities. Coaches are always telling me ‘You’re going to be this. You’re going to be that.’ I was like ‘Nah.’ So it’s been really shocking.”
CAMPS PAY OFF
Sakinah Matos said Yetur can barely walk the stairs at home without tripping over his size-18 feet. So she was stunned to watch him perform agility drills adeptly at several one-day camps in the past few months.
He has run the 40-yard dash in 4.59 seconds. Chancellor assistant coach J.P. Gibbons said Yetur has also “owned” drills when he goes one-on-one with offensive line prospects.
“Obviously we don’t want his head to get too big, but he’s got a real shot,” Gibbons said. “You see the way he’s built, those lower legs, that’s what D–I linemen look like.”
The University of Charlotte was the first school to extend a scholarship offer to Yetur. Clemson soon followed. Virginia offered him while he was working out for Virginia Tech. The Hokies followed suit.
Then Marshall requested his services. Penn State, Old Dominion, Duke and West Virginia extended offers on the same day shortly afterward. That was when Yetur was competing at a satellite camp held by ODU and Penn State on the Monarchs’ campus.
Rob Matos said he felt like an agent that day. He jokingly said he’s going back to school to get his law degree to represent his son.
“My phone was blowing up,” Rob Matos said. “It was like ‘Hey call Lonnie Galloway from West Virginia. They’re ready to offer.’ Next it was ‘Call David Cutcliffe from Duke.’ As we’re on the field waiting for Coach [James] Franklin from Penn State, he had already indicated they were going to offer him.”
Maryland was the 10th and most recent school to extend an offer to Yetur. He said he plans to take his time and choose a college destination.
His parents were impressed that Clemson coaches knew about the tragedies he’s faced in the past and the perseverance he’s shown to overcome them.
Yetur also left an impression on the Tigers because after he was offered there was no celebration. He immediately wanted to know what the staff thought about his friends and teammates George Brown, Jason Brown and E.J. Jenkins, who have joined him on many of his recruiting visits.
None of them have an offer in hand, but Yetur is consistently lobbying for them. He said since middle school they’ve become his brothers, too.
“We’ve always talked about doing it together, and right now it’s just me,” Yetur said. “It’s kind of hard to enjoy when you’re seeing frustration in people that you care about.”