Just being at those awards ceremonies, a finalist for two national defensive player of the year awards, already was an epic victory, almost a fantasy for Temple linebacker Tyler Matakevich.
Here was a guy with no other Division I-A offers out of high school, singled out as better than all the rest.
Temple coach Matt Rhule kind of knew there might be more to the fantasy. Rhule had been told he had to be there last week in Charlotte, N.C., at the ceremony to hand out the Bronco Nagurski Award for the nation's defensive player of the year.
"I kept telling him, 'You have a speech ready?' " Rhule said this week.
"No, I don't need a speech - there's no shot of me winning," Matakevich remembers saying, pointing out to his coach that his competition was a defensive end from Clemson, a linebacker from Alabama, a defensive end from Penn State and a defensive back from Duke.
At the dinner, Matakevich said, Rhule actually wrote down a few words for him. "I was like, 'Stop, I don't need anything.' "
Then he heard his name.
"I was like . . . maybe I should look at that piece of paper,' " Matakevich said.
It happened again at the Bednarik Award ceremony. Best defensive player in the nation, from Temple University. At the Nagurski affair, Rhule was asked to stand up and say something. He wasn't ready for that either, Temple's coach said.
"The first thing that came out of my mouth: The kid's never missed a practice," Rhule said.
"A practice or a game," defensive coordinator Phil Snow said this week. "Who does that, right?"
Matakevich is one of seven players in Football Bowl Subdivision history to record 100 tackles in four separate seasons. This season, he led the Owls in tackles in each game. Who does that?
Rhule says the consensus first-team all-American is living proof that football isn't just about 40-yard dash times and other defined statistics.
"It just goes to remind me - talent isn't the right word. But talent is almost intangible," Rhule said. "The ability to play football is intangible. You couldn't measure it, you couldn't identify it on a chart. But whatever it is, he has it."
He's also the perfect marriage of player and system. Snow's defense is designed to get the weakside linebacker in position to make plays. During a game, Matakevich is lined up all over the place. That's how he could get three sacks against Penn State and end up with the game-sealing interception off a tipped pass at Cincinnati and knock down an SMU pass when the Mustangs were in position to spring an upset.
"If you're working at something and you don't miss a day, you're going to get better at it if you like it," Snow said. "And he loves football."
Snow said the defensive players are tutored at all times on offensive tactics, taking weekly written tests in the offseason. And when Matakevich wasn't studying, he probably was lifting.
"When I first got here, his neck was 163/4," said Snow, who arrived after Matakevich's freshman season. "It's almost 20 inches now."
"He's answered every challenge," Rhule said. "He was here a year when we got here. He'd had a bunch of tackles. He'll tell you, we showed him like 50 plays of him not being tough, 'you're not all this' - all he's ever done is make us shut up, which is awesome. Whatever we told him he can't do, he does it."
Matakevich said he remembers the linebackers meeting Rhule referred to like it was yesterday, how the head coach came in and showed a tape that just went on and on. There were tackles, Matakevich said, but they were 10 yards downfield. Not good enough.
"He's been challenged the whole way and he's never been upset about it," Rhule said. "He embraced it."
With these awards, Rhule said he did worry that it could upset the team dynamic. Matakevich is one of those guys you can't get to talk about himself. All triumphs, even these awards, are team triumphs. Still, Rhule was worried. He checked with Owls quarterback P.J. Walker, who set him straight.
"Nah, everyone is fired up about it," Walker told Rhule.
In fact, the quarterback had posted on Twitter: "No one can wear 8 here again," referring to Matakevich's number.
"He just finds a way to make plays," Snow said. "That's why the pros are going to come in and time him. He's not going to be the fastest guy. He's not going to be the quickest guy. But he's going to play in the league a long time. He's just one of those guys."
Look for him to add a few more pounds, Snow said, and switch to middle linebacker, which he could have played at Temple, except the need was at weakside linebacker, and it was always the right fit.
At the awards ceremonies, Matakevich said, some people didn't know much of anything about Temple.
"Tenth and Diamond, Philadelphia," he told them.
Matakevich finally did miss some practice time at 10th and Diamond to pick up some awards.
"I don't like that - I can't wait to get out there," Matakevich said Tuesday afternoon before practice, his ankles already taped.