AUBURN, Ala. — Tray Matthews stood, smiled and accepted hugs as the steady procession of former teammates and mentors came by.
There was Bryant Gantt, Georgia’s player development coordinator, who put his arms around Matthews’ shoulders, embraced him, and patted his chest as he said some words.
There was team chaplain Thomas Settles, coming by to say a few words. Georgia players from Reggie Wilkerson and Jordan Jenkins came over too.
“Tray!” yelled out Jordan Jenkins, Georgia’s senior linebacker, getting Matthews’ attention and coming over to say one more thing.
“It was weird,” Jenkins said later in Georgia’s locker room. “Especially after the last time he played here.”
Matthews has actually played several games at Jordan-Hare Stadium – though not this one against Georgia – but Jenkins’ meaning was quite clear.
Before Saturday’s game Auburn replaced several times the Prayer at Jordan-Hare, the 73-yard hail mary bomb that bounced off two Georgia defenders and into the hands of receiver Ricardo Louis. The Auburn crowd cheered every time, though one couldn’t help but wonder what was going through the mind of Matthews – who was one of those two Georgia defenders on the play.
Matthews transferred to Auburn last year after a series of off-field incidents. He has started seven games this season at strong safety but sat out Saturday with an injury.
“He wasn’t healthy enough to play,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “He wanted to, but he wasn’t healthy enough to go.”
Georgia freshman receiver Terry Godwin also stopped to talk to Matthews, but their connection wasn’t Georgia. Their hometowns (Hogansville for Godwin and Newnan for Matthews) are about a half-hour away, and Matthews hosted Godwin on his official visit to Auburn.
“I pictured him this (Auburn) uniform his whole career,” Godwin said.
But Jenkins admitted it was weird to see Matthews in the other uniform. They started together for a season in Georgia’s defense. When they spoke after Saturday’s game, Jenkins said he didn’t mention the Prayer in Jordan-Hare.
“I mentioned the Leonard Fournette hit though,” Jenkins said.
That was in reference to the move the LSU tailback made, causing Matthews to flip over him.
“I love the kid to death,” Jenkins said. “He’s a knucklehead, and I’m just praying for him to get healthy.”