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October 26, 2012
R.J. Mattes grew up absorbing ACC rivalries
NC State fifth-year senior left guard R.J. Mattes was once recruited by both NC State and North Carolina.
The former Concord (N.C.) Robinson High Rivals.com four-star prospect picked NC State over Clemson, North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina, on Jan. 20, 2008, and has never looked back. The versatile lineman went 3-0 last year against those three ACC programs, and is about to play the trio again starting at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill.
The 6-foot-6, 311-pound Mattes and the NC State seniors are hoping to extend the winning streak over UNC to six games.
"Every year, Carolina is an important game to us," Mattes said. "Every game is important, but Carolina is a little extra special. We don't want to look at the past and past records because we are a whole new team compared to the past five teams. We want to create our own history."
Perhaps the most memorable victory during the streak occurred when Mattes was redshirting in 2008, and the Wolfpack won 41-10 at Kenan Stadium.
"That year was when it first got in-grained in me at NC State that we don't like Carolina," Mattes said. "I came in considering both schools, so I didn't have any hatred toward the other. After that game, our fans let us know how much they dislike Carolina blue.
"I have respect for them and their players, but I have a big hatred toward them too."
UNC tried to fire up its players this week with Wolfpack red in the locker room. Mattes doesn't have much love for Carolina blue, and wouldn't want to see that color in the NCSU locker room.
"I can't comment on that, but a few things would happen and I'll just leave it at that for the team," Mattes said. "It's healthy and I like how the fans are on 99.9 FM The Fan. The fans will go back and forth, and that makes it fun for the players.
"The players don't hate each other as much as the fans hate each other, so it's always good to see the smack talk on social media and radio."
Just as important, the Wolfpack control their own destiny in the Atlantic Division in the ACC with future home games against Virginia, Wake Forest and Boston College, and a road trip to Clemson.
"We take one game at a time and Carolina is next on our schedule," Mattes said. "We have the ultimate goal of winning the ACC, so we have to keep grinding it down one game at a time."
Mattes grew up in a household the rivalry game was Virginia vs. Virginia Tech, with his father, Ron Mattes, a defensive tackle for the Cavaliers.
"He hated Virginia Tech because he played for UVa," Mattes said. "The in-state rival is always the team to hate."
Mattes knows he'll be following the NC State/UNC series for the rest of his life.
"There is always a saying that once you are a wolf, you are part of the Wolfpack," Mattes said. "My whole life I'll be cheering for the Wolfpack, and especially against Carolina.
"When I'm older one day, I'll bring the kids back for tailgating and the Carolina game. I'm looking forward to that down the road."
Mattes also has a big individual matchup against UNC 6-3, 305-pound senior defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, who has 22 tackles, eight tackles for loss and five sacks. Scout's Inc. has Williams ranked No. 16 overall for the 2013 NFL Draft.
"He's by far one of the best tackles that I'll play this year," Mattes said. "The guy is real physical. His first step off the ball, he's fast, physical and strong. I'm going to have my hands full and he's a future NFL Draft pick.
"If you want to get drafted, you have to play draft picks, so hopefully I'll come out there and play good. I'll have to play my A game to block him."
NC State has been inconsistent in running the football, but the offensive line is as healthy as it can be with the return of junior left tackle Rob Crisp and fifth-year senior right tackle Andrew Wallace. NC State had to adjust to the season-ending foot injury to fifth-year senior right guard Zach Allen against Miami Sept. 29.
Mattes watched film of the Duke offensive line and running backs rush for 234 yards on 53 carries and two touchdowns in the Blue Devils' 33-30 victory last Saturday.
"I was impressed with Duke's offensive line," Mattes said. "They are a real physical bunch, and Carolina isn't an easy team to run against. They had a good game plan and executed like they should."
Crisp returned to the lineup in the 20-18 win at Maryland last Saturday, but Wallace did not. Redshirt sophomore Tyson Chandler handled the right tackle duties for the third game in a row. The Wolfpack managed just 40 yards on 26 carries, and allowed two sacks on 47 passing attempts.
"There was some hiccups in the Maryland game, but Maryland has a good defense in general," Mattes said. "They are No. 10 in the country [defensively], so it's hard to run against them. I hope we have better results against Carolina."
Mattes has settled back in at left guard after playing left tackle against Miami and Florida State. Sometimes he's played both positions in the same game.
"It's not as easy as it looks," said Mattes about playing multiple positions. "There is obviously a transition. I've played both so many, it's like riding a bike. It's wherever they need be."
Mattes has allowed just one sack in 413 plays, and graded out as the top lineman against South Alabama, Citadel, Miami and Florida State.
"Being a fifth-year senior and a leader, I expect to do that," Mattes said. "If I'm not at the top, I'm disappointed in myself. I've set a high standard for myself.
"Normally, they grade us, but they don't tell us who gets the highest grade. They don't want us to get big heads. They tell us what we need to work on."