Last fall, there was a certain symmetry between the careers of D.J. Matthews and Camron Buckley. Both were once heralded wide receiver recruits, whose careers hadn’t panned out exactly how many expected. Both didn’t play last season. At Florida State, Matthews, a lightning quick wide receiver, decided to opt out of the 2020 season. At Texas A&M, Buckley tore his ACL before the season began.
Over the course of the past year, Matthews and Buckley both transferred to Indiana as graduates in hopes of revitalizing their careers. It was the kind of journey that, from Matthews’ perspective, was about finding “peace.”
And now, with a significant perspective on life, Matthews and Buckley both have a chance to play major roles for the Hoosiers this season. Matthews is listed as the starter at slot receiver ahead of the season opener against Iowa on Saturday. Buckley, on the other hand, is lower on the depth chart, but still figures to find a niche.
“I think the urgency about where they’re at in their careers,” IU offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan said. “They recognize that they don’t have as much time as when they were freshmen. There’s certainly a sense of urgency to play well, they want that for themselves and we want that for them.”
Out of high school, Matthews and Buckley, both members of the 2017 class, were largely regarded as four-star recruits with high expectations for their careers. Matthews was a U.S. Army All-American and Buckley was an Under Armour All-American. They both moved on to big time programs.
At Florida State, Matthews showed flashes of incredible athleticism. As a sophomore, he zipped through the defense for a 74-yard punt return touchdown against Miami. Those moments, however, weren’t consistent. He combined for 737 total receiving yards in sophomore and junior season, but wasn’t able to breakout as a star.
Some of that was likely due to the program’s overall instability. Jimbo Fisher, who recruited Matthews, left Florida State after Matthews’ freshman season. Then Willie Taggart took over for two seasons, before Mike Norvell took the reins in 2020. Last September, a few weeks after tweeting that he caught COVID-19, Matthews entered the transfer portal before committing to IU a few months later.
“Everything is not going to go as planned,” Matthews said. “You can walk into great situations and a lot of things happen, a lot of adversity happened. It just allowed me to just trust the process.”
On the other side of the country, Buckley had made significant strides from his freshman to sophomore seasons, increasing his total receptions from 17 to 34. His junior season, however, there was a sharp decline, catching just 11 passes for 121 yards.
In August 2020, Buckley tore his ACL and lateral meniscus, sidelining him for the entirety of the season. For the first month after surgery, Buckley wasn’t able to walk. Still, he attended class, every team meeting, practices and all but a few road games. He went to the weight room and, with his non-injured leg, did exercises like leg press, leg extension and leg curls. Eventually, he was able to start walking, then jogging, working all the way up to sprinting.
In June, Buckley decided to leave the state of Texas, where he’d also played his high school ball, announcing his transfer to Indiana.
“Time flies… that’s something that I didn’t understand fully (before),” Buckley said. “Now I understand that a lot. I’m glad that time has brought me here. I’m ready to do something special here.”
For Matthews, much of that perspective came from the birth of his daughter Seyvnn Matthews, who is now one year old. Matthews decided to dedicate time to Seyvnn, rather than play in the 2020 season. When she was big enough, they went fishing and canoeing. One time, Matthews let her sit on his lap in the driver’s seat of a parked car and, as she pretended to move the wheel, he made engine noises.
“When I was able to spend time with her, I was just relaxed,” Matthews said. “All the anxiety was gone. It was just a different feeling, something that I’ve been searching for since even out of high school.”
I’ll choose this Over Anything Any day?My princess My Fav Person Ever? pic.twitter.com/3WF4GYGE7g
— DJ MATTHEWS??? (@2nineee) September 6, 2020
Seyvnn has started to say “daddy” and “mommy.” Sevynn is currently with her mom, following her around for her job. On Tuesday, standing inside IU’s team room, you can tell by Matthews’ wide grin when talking about Sevynn that he continues to cherish those memories, even if he’s away from her now.
“I really found peace with myself last year as I was dealing with what I was dealing with,” Matthews said. “She brought so much joy to my life. I was happy. I just found myself.”
Now, with kickoff less than a week away, Matthews and Buckley have learned the new playbook and built relationships with their teammates and coaches. After combining to play in more than 60 collegiate games, changing schools, seeing the highs and lows, Buckley and Matthews have found a home at Indiana.
“I never planned on anything,” Buckley said earlier this summer. “Life just happens. I don’t plan it. I just take what life gives me and let it roll.”