Temple linebacker Tyler Matakevich was a dominant two-way performer at St. Joseph's High in Trumbull, Conn., so each time the Owls play the team from his state, Matakevich admits to having even more incentive.
Temple was the lone Football Bowl Subdivision school to offer Matakevich a scholarship. Now he is a viable all-American candidate. Among the many story lines this week is that Connecticut stands in the way of Temple's winning the American Athletic Conference East Division title.
No. 25 Temple (9-2, 6-1 AAC) hosts UConn (6-5, 4-3) on Saturday night in the regular-season finale at Lincoln Financial Field. Temple will most likely need to win to clinch the AAC East. The only other way Temple could clinch is if South Florida loses on Thursday to winless Central Florida.
Matakevich, whose motor is nonstop, does not need much extra motivation against anybody, but the Huskies are providing it this week.
"I always play with a chip on my shoulder, especially playing them," said Matakevich, who last week became the seventh player in FBS history to record 100 or more tackles in four seasons. "I always remember and know what I had to deal with when it comes to them, but you can't let your emotions get to you and have to go out and play."
During his second start as a freshman in 2012, Matakevich recorded 19 tackles in a 17-14 overtime win over UConn. In each of the last two seasons he recorded seven tackles as the Owls split two games with the Huskies.
Matakevich is the leading active FBS player in tackles with 462 and the only player who has led his team in tackles each game this year.
On Tuesday he was named a finalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award, presented by the Maxwell Club to the nation's defensive player of the year. The other two finalists are Penn State defensive end Carl Nassib (of Malvern Prep) and Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland.
Even with the accolades, Temple coach Matt Rhule feels there has been a more impressive accomplishment by Matakevich.
"He has never missed a practice in four years, and to have that many tackles and play in that many games, to not miss a practice is unbelievable," Rhule said. "That is just who he is."
The fact that Temple can earn a division title and a berth in the inaugural AAC championship game on Dec. 5 is more than enough incentive for Matakevich, who will be appearing in his 47th career game at Temple.
The chance to earn a title in his final regular-season game, especially after going through 4-7, 2-10 and 6-6 campaigns, is something that inspires Matakevich.
"This is definitely a great opportunity that we have," he said. "I am looking forward to it and can't wait."
Center Kyle Friend, who missed the last three games with a knee injury, has returned to practice. Rhule said he believes Friend can return for the Owls' bowl game. . . . Rhule said receiver John Christopher has been playing with a broken foot and does not know his availability this week. Christopher, who has made numerous clutch receptions, has appeared in 46 consecutive games. . . . Connecticut's defense has allowed just two touchdowns over the last three games.