LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Octavius Matthews was one of the nation’s top running back recruits coming out of Itawamba Community College in Mississippi, and his signing day decision to pick Kansas left coach David Beaty giddy with excitement.
Beaty is still thankful he chose the Jayhawks, only now it’s for a very different reason.
Beaty announced less than a week before the Jayhawks’ opener against Southeast Missouri State that Matthews had been diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. The condition, in which the heart muscle becomes abnormally thick, making it harder to pump blood, was discovered after a team-sponsored echocardiogram.
It may not have been discovered had Matthews chosen to go elsewhere.
“There’s a lot of things he went through, including the loss of his career, that he didn’t plan on happening to him,” Beaty said Tuesday. “He might have been one of the most talented guys we’ve had since we’ve been here. He had a real chance to play at that next level. He had more than a real chance.”
Beaty said that the Jayhawks’ program requires all players to go through cardiac screenings. In this case, he said, “Our cardiac screen probably saved his life.”
It also means Matthews will be able to manage his condition going forward.
“His decision to retire was come to with our sports medicine staff, myself, our cardiologist, determining that he should not be playing this level of sport,” Beaty said, “because it could be dangerous to him.”
The diagnosis also came just months after Matthews lost his mother, Kristy Bradford, to heart complications.
Matthews, who was once committed to Auburn, was expected to compete for a starting job at Kansas. He ran for more than 1,400 yards and nine touchdowns during his junior college career, earning him four-star status from most of the recruiting services and a No. 1 ranking among JUCO running backs.
Beaty said Matthews will remain involved with the program in some capacity.
“As you can imagine, he’s struggling not only with (his diagnosis) but the loss of his mom with a very similar situation,” Beaty said. “When the time is right, he’ll speak.”
Three other players have been ruled out for the season with various injuries: running back Denzell Evans, tight end Kenyon Tabor and offensive lineman Cam Durley.
Beaty said that Tabor in particular will be able to use a redshirt season to his advantage.
Beaty has refused to say whether incumbent Carter Stanley or JUCO transfer Peyton Bender will start at quarterback Saturday, even though the coach seemed to indicate he had made his decision. Stanley and Bender, who also happen to be roommates, have been neck-and-neck throughout fall camp.
“They’ll see it when he runs out,” Beaty said. “No advantage for us to tell anybody who’s playing at that position until we go out there.”
JORDAN WOLF , Associated Press
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