Growing up constantly engaged in sports at Merivale High School, it’s no wonder Alex Mateas is such an outstanding athlete. Starting with soccer, then basketball, and finally football, he earned himself a scholarship to Penn State and two years later transferred to Connecticut; starting 29 games over an illustrious three-year career. In the 2015 CFL draft, Mateas was chosen in the first round, and first overall, by the Ottawa Redblacks. In fall of 2017, Alex switched positions to act as the replacement centre for Jon Gott due to an injury, and his performance kept him at centre even after Jon’s return.
With all of the past year’s changes, Alex feels that the Redblack’s experience finally encompasses everything that makes American football great, and more. After a winter of training, Alex Mateas is ready to come out swinging for another season on the field at Lansdowne.
Born right here in Ottawa, can you tell us a little bit about your childhood? How did you develop a passion for the game?
I didn’t really get into football until my later teenage years, but I grew up around sports all the time. My dad started a soccer club when me and my sisters were all 3, 5, and 7. So we’d spend our whole evenings on the soccer field, weekends 8 in the morning till midnight. Whether one of us were playing on a team or my dad was coaching, we were always around the field. My mom was a huge factor in making sure that we all got to the right games and the right practices. I still keep a soccer ball in my locker that I play with from time to time when the weather’s nice. Then I needed to find a sport for myself, a little bit of independence. I chose to start playing basketball. I played basketball for about 6 or 7 years, I ended up playing for the Ottawa Guardsmen, which is the inner team for the Ravens. I was extremely lucky to spend some time with Rob and Dave Smart. They’re a huge factor in where I am today. To have someone that isn’t your parent, cracking the whip and supporting your goals, is extremely helpful when you’re a teenager. From there they suggested that I might be able to do something with football. I was 16 at the time, and being that they’re so highly respected in Canada I took their advice. One day at a time, one year at a time, and after three years of playing football for a couple different teams in Ottawa I eventually got the chance for the full scholarship to Penn State.
Tell us a little bit about your experience playing for the Connecticut Huskies of the NCAA. What did you study in school and and how did your time with that team help to further develop your overall skill level?
The time that I spent at NCAA was huge. It was extremely beneficial. It really pushed me to the limits in everything I was doing, especially physically. We would have so many guys competing for one spot, almost 20 to 25 offensive linemen and 5 slots. It’s a lot of competition especially with the recruiting being done all across the country and Canada, too. I ended up graduating with a degree in human development and family studies. I didn’t really have a direction when I started, but I found it intriguing. Growing up with a soccer family I did a lot of coaching as well, so I love working with kids. I saw a lot of value in all the classes I was taking and I learned things that I apply to my day to day life still. Funny thing is, although you may not expect it, there were a lot of football players in family studies.
For both 2013 and 2014, you started centre for all 12 games with the Huskies, something only 2 other players have ever done at that University. What did this accomplishment mean to you?
It definitely took me by surprise. I didn’t get the chance to really enjoy it until a couple years after, because in the NCAA they really push building a really strong team that’s willing to give everything for the team. So even though I was playing all those games, it was actually a pretty upsetting time for the team and my life revolved around that. The team wasn’t doing very well, we were going through changes, we hadn’t won a lot of games. So honestly at the time I felt like I was doing the worst I had ever done. Which is pretty interesting because after a couple years, you get the chance to sit back and have opportunities like this interview and you realize it was an accomplishment, one that you were able to pull through with something positive and successful by the end. That time taught me the importance of finding the balance between your own success as well as the team’s success. One isn’t completely dependant on the other, but you have to make sure that you’re working hard at both without compromising your physical or psychological health.
Walk us through CFL draft day. What was your initial reaction after being chosen in the first round, first overall in 2015 and who was the first person you spoke with after being signed by the RedBlacks on May 22nd, 2015?
I’m not sure if many people know this but I had gotten cut from the New York Jets on Sunday. I got home and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I didn’t know whether I wanted to go down to anymore NFL rookie camps where I might just be another body. But on Monday I had an interview with TSN 1200, an hour after that my agent called me and told me that the Ottawa RedBlacks wanted to draft me first overall. So Monday afternoon to Tuesday night, I didn’t talk to any of my friends, (laughs) they were messaging me, I ignored them. Because the day before we had had a conversation with management, with Rick Campbell and Marcel, so we had to a certain extent, decided that that was what I wanted to do. The first people that I talked to were my mom and my dad, they really stressed the importance of not only getting the chance to play football professionally, but to do it in my hometown, the city I grew up in playing sports everywhere with all my friends and family. As soon as they did announce it, I had all the phone calls from my buddies, friends, family, all the support. But I mainly just enjoyed it with my mom, my dad, and my two sisters. They’ve been incredibly helpful with everything that I’ve gone through. It was a time that I wanted to enjoy with them.
Looking back to the teenage version of yourself when you played with the Ottawa Sooners, what’s one piece of advice that you wish you could give to him and why?
(Laughs) That’s a good question. I would tell Alex Mateas of the Ottawa Sooners to not take things too personally. It’s hard when you care a lot about something. Personally for me I’ve mistaken stressing out for actually caring and being productive towards attaining a goal. I would definitely tell myself to relax a little bit, let the work speak for itself.
In fall of 2017, you stepped in as a centre to cover Jon Gott’s spot, as he had been out with an injury. Following his return, the team decided to keep you at centre because of how well you played the position. Can you tell us more about that entire situation from your own perspective? What was it like stepping in for a position you hadn’t played since your time with the Connecticut Huskies and how did Jon help you with the change?
It was a dream come true, I mean centre’s definitely a position where I found real success in football at the college level. Finally getting the opportunity to play was something I wanted to take advantage of. Even though I was playing guard for a couple years, I was definitely prepared to play centre. I wanted to keep the same routine, I wanted to make sure that just in case something happened to Jon, or something happened to someone else on the offensive line, that I was ready to step in to that position and be able to succeed. With this off-season wrapping up I’m excited to kind of forget about it and build off it instead of overthinking, and enjoy it. The experience that I had with Jon was huge. When I was stepping in to replace him for the short time while he was injured, just knowing that I had Jon on the sidelines in Montreal, fully committed to me doing as well as I can do for the team… It takes a lot of stress off you. It’s easy to forget and it’s easy to not understand how much stress a lot of these guys have, myself included, when you’re worried about someone coming and taking your job. I mean you work as hard as you can but there’s a lot of factors you can’t control, so to have had someone behind me that was fully committed to myself and the team it took a lot of stress off and it just means I was just able to put everything into that 4 hour game and to do as well as I could. That was fantastic and that’s the true definition of a real teammate. I just knew I wanted to do the same for someone else in the future, because it made such a difference to me.
What are some three of the best things that you think Ottawa has to offer to it’s residents and why?
One: I’m a big fan of and I see the value of how Ottawa has developed geographically. I think we’re pretty lucky in the sense that we can have a little bit of everything if we wanted it. So if you live on the outskirts, whether it be Nepean or Barrhaven or Stittsville, or anywhere in the East end, you can get to downtown relatively easily. Even with traffic it’s not a whole day trip it just takes a little bit of time, so I think that’s pretty incredible. If you want a little bit of space, you can kinda live on the outskirts and travel in or if you want a lively downtown scene, or a little more busy, then Centretown is great, or the Glebe… and the Market, it’s fantastic. I think that’s huge for us people living in Ottawa, there’s a lot to enjoy if you have the means to look up a couple things and travel to them. Two: The more that I’m networking around town, getting the opportunity to meet more people, you really do realize that it is a little-big city (laughs). The degree of separation is very small and it’s very easy to meet people where you find there’s a mutual connection. And I think that’s huge because it’s truly beneficial and it’s helpful that the networks can be so easily built. And the third and most important: The Redblacks (laughs). It’s fantastic that we have the football team back. It’s something that the fans in the city can enjoy during the summer. Not just the game but everything the Redblack come with. From what I’m told, the South stands are their own little social environment, with a lot of room to meet people, supposedly you can run into a lot of friends and people in your community. As well as Landsdowne. It was a huge addition to the city, it kind of encompasses what football is. Spending time in the states, you realize that football down there isn’t necessarily just what happens between the whistles, it’s everything that football comes with. So whether you want to sing songs at the game, or whether you just want to eat a lot of food, or you really like the game, or socially tailgating before or afterwards, I think Landsdowne really helps Ottawa experience football to the fullest. You can go to Joey’s at Landsdowne, spend time around there, or you can just walk around to the shops, and explore Bank Street and Elgin together, and wow, I just couldn’t be happier to be in Ottawa as well as playing for the team at this time. So, by far, best part of the city: Ottawa Redblacks.
What’s one thing that most people wouldn’t know about you? Any superstitions, hidden talents, etc?
No crazy superstitions, but all of my close friends know I’m a big softie (laughs). I love football, but the violence and the physical aspect of football has been the biggest hurdle for me to figure out how to succeed at that. Although I feel like I’ve done a good job at making that an asset for me, you’ll never find me looking for a physical confrontation. So I’m a big softie, and if I can use that to my advantage then I’m happy.
What’s the chemistry like between the guys in the dressing room and how has this team been brought closer together over the past few years?
The environment’s incredible. The camaraderie on the team’s fantastic. Our locker room’s always a ton of fun and we’ve had great leaders, like Henry, and now we have Trevor who’s a great quarterback, he’s always helpful to guys on the team. We’ve got two guys, called “the buds,” and the amount of games that these guys think of in the locker room is incredible (laughs). They’ll think of something, whether it be with a soccer ball or a tennis ball, or using the wall, or basketball, whatever it is, but they make it competitive but very inclusive and anyone on the team can come play regardless of your size, skill set, whatever. And I think that’s huge, I think that’s a big factor in our environment, how we get to enjoy our time together. When you have great teammates like Brad and Greg, it makes it very easy to enjoy time with each other.
What can fans expect to see from the Ottawa REDBLACKS in the upcoming season?
The fans can definitely expect us to come out swinging. We’re excited to learn from last year and to continue getting better. I know everyone that I’m talking to is just absolutely jacked up to get back to work, and it feels fantastic to have such a large group of people who are passionate about their jobs. We’re all chomping at the bit to get back out there so you can definitely guarantee that we’ll be coming out swinging and giving it our all.