“I’m actually working out right now.” Matt Pryor said, gently laughing when I asked him what his plans are between now and when he touches down in Philadelphia in just over two weeks. If that doesn’t demonstrate the determination and work ethic of the Eagles sixth round selection, then there isn’t much that will.
Pryor didn’t play Football until High School. Attending Lakewood High School in California, Pryor would later receive letters from numerous schools, one of which just so happened to be TCU. It was in that moment that the offensive lineman then listed at 6’7, 320 lbs, would truly fall in love with the game and realize the strength of his own potential. The Horned Frogs would not only give Pryor a scholarship, but mold his game in ways he couldn’t have imagined.
“I came in as a tackle and the following year we were short on guards and my coach asked me to switch, so whatever was gonna help the team.” Pryor said, recalling his days protecting quarterbacks such as Trevone Boykin and Kenny Hill. “I started two years at guard and in my senior year I switched between the two. I feel like I have the athletic ability to do both. Whatever was going to help the team is what I did.”
Versatility may well be Pryor’s biggest asset and this past weekend, his dream of playing in the NFL came true. The world-champion Philadelphia Eagles decided to draft Pryor on day three of the draft. A team that prides itself on versatility along the offensive line and in recent years, has gone on to build the best fortress in Football.
“I don’t know how to explain it really.” Pryor explained, telling me what it was like to receive that fabled phone call. “It’s a feeling that not many people get to experience. It’s a great feeling, I was blessed to receive that call. Overall, they gave me the mindset of ‘okay, they see something in me so I have to prove I belong there’.
Luckily for Pryor, there will be a familiar face to help him settle into new surroundings, just as there was when he first arrived on campus at TCU. That man is Halapoulivaati Vaitai. The tackle now entering his third year has anchored both sides of the Eagles offensive front when injuries and suspensions sought to hold the unit back. Before he was winning playoff games and a Super Bowl ring, he would line up on the opposite side of the line to Pryor as his TCU teammate and in many ways, mentor.
“Even freshman year at TCU he was showing me the ropes playing tackle, or helping me get used to a new state (being from California), how to handle college, football and classes at the same time.” Pryor said, speaking glowingly of his former and future teammate. The two didn’t take long to re-ignite their chemistry, either.
“Five minutes after the call (From the Eagles), I text him.” The 6’7, 338 lbs lineman stated. “He was talking about how excited he is to be teammates again, telling me the ropes, how great an organization the Eagles are, what a great city Philadelphia is and just giving me all the details. But this is something he spoke to me about before I knew I was going there.
Vaitai isn’t the only Philadelphia Eagle to have positively influenced Pryor. The other, has been O-Line coach, Jeff Stoutland. A coach notorious for putting players through their paces in visits to see whether or not they would be a solid fit for an ‘iron-sharpens-iron culture’, Stoutland left a great first impression on his soon-to-be draft pick when the two met just weeks before.
“When I took one of my 30 visits down there, he went over some of the protection schemes to see how I learned.” Pryor said excitedly. “It was a great experience. I have a lot to learn from Coach Stout. He’s a great coach and there’s a reason why the Eagles are the best offensive line in the league right now and Super Bowl champs. You always hear on commentary about how great the offensive line is, so I’m excited to be a part of that.”
The Eagles have the best offensive front in football and easily one of the deepest. The drafting of Pryor only adds to that. While depth is a little light at interior guard and behind their franchise right tackle, Lane Johnson, the starting five is filled with Pro Bowlers and elite talent. Something Pryor is reveling in as he counts down the days until he walks into the NovaCare Complex.
“I got a bunch of veterans that could show me the ropes and new techniques, regardless of whether I play guard or tackle. I’m the rookie coming in, don’t have much experience really in Football outside of High School.. From a football aspect I have a lot to learn and it’s great having pro bowlers and veterans to teach me everything I need to know.”
It didn’t take long to learn what kind of person Matt is behind the facemask. The moment the word ‘playbook’ was mentioned, the tempo changed and you could almost feel the hunger. Like a Lion licking its lips as it eyes up its prey, Pryor is as determined as he ever has been to make his mark in the NFL.
“It’s back to the grind, gotta make sure I’m in shape.” Pryor told me just seconds after a workout in Texas. “Make sure I’m able to physically do the work and mentally not make any mistakes learning a new playbook and everything.”
But what really stood out, was the message Pryor wanted to send to Eagles fans. I asked him what kind of player fans should expect when Training Camp rolls around and his response just exuded hunger.
“A hard working player. It’s amazing that people are happy to see me there. I’ve seen people calling me a steal and all that, but it’s words. I’m gonna put it into action and show people I’m there to help the team out.”
Not once did Pryor sound content. Even just days after a life-changing event, he’s working out, eager to learn the playbook and talking about the impact that the veterans will have on his game. The term ‘hard-hat and lunch pail’ often gets thrown around a lot at this time of year, but it’s personified by Matt Pryor, a lineman who is just as hungry to learn as he is to dominate the opposition. A student of the game in every sense of the word, Pryor will be a very fun player to watch when the Summer rolls around.
Cal Sport Media via AP Images