Ochaun Mathis
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With His Recruitment Behind Him, Ochaun Mathis Is on to the Next Part of His Journey

June 07, 2022

Ochaun Mathis has been in Lincoln for around two weeks now.

The two-time second-team All-Big 12 defensive end/outside linebacker from TCU was the top available transfer in the country according to The Athletic before choosing Nebraska over his home-state Texas Longhorns on April 30. With his high-profile recruitment having been completed for over a month, Mathis is moving on to the next stage of his journey—getting his body Big Ten-ready.

“These guys are a lot stronger in this conference, so trying to build muscle and mass and just try to get out there and start off where I left off,” Mathis said during an appearance on ‘Sports Nightly’ last week.

The 6-foot-5, 257-pounder racked up 15.5 sacks, 30.5 tackles for loss and 135 tackles during a four-year career at TCU. The Manor, Texas, native knows the Big Ten Conference is filled with programs that play a more physical brand of football than those in the Big 12. Last season, four Big Ten teams—Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska—averaged 40 or more rushing attempts per game while Baylor and Oklahoma State were the only ones to do it in the Big 12. In 2020, seven Big Ten teams averaged 40 or more rushes per game against two from the Big 12.

That’s why the work being put in at the weight room is important this offseason.

“Coming in and being able to put on muscle mass and keep the speed, but build on top of it is one of my biggest things to work on,” Mathis said.

During the interview, Mathis dove into the reasons why he picked the Huskers over the Longhorns. One of them, he said, was wanting a familiar face at his next destination. Both Texas and Nebraska provided that. His former head coach, Gary Patterson, is now a special assistant to Longhorns’ head coach Steve Sarkisian. The Huskers countered with Bryan Applewhite, who coached the Horned Frogs’ running backs the past two seasons while Mathis was in Fort Worth.

Applewhite has already shown his worth on the recruiting trail at Nebraska. He flipped former TCU commit Ajay Allen, a four-star running back in the 2023 class according to 247Sports, to the Huskers on signing day last February. Applewhite and his new Husker staff came out on top against Patterson and the Longhorns for Mathis, too.

“It was the battle of the familiar face,” Mathis said.

Even though the two play and coach different positions, the bond between Mathis and Applewhite started on the Horned Frogs’ practice fields. Mathis would race TCU’s running backs to Applewhite’s station—sometimes he’d win, sometimes he’d lose, Mathis said—and catch punts during special teams drills. Applewhite was always positive toward Mathis, and that stuck in Mathis’ mind when he was trying to decide whether to play for Texas or Nebraska.

Trust has been built from the relationship to the point where Mathis believes he won’t have any regrets picking Big Red over burnt orange.

“Me and him were getting real close over the time of being at TCU,” Mathis said of Applewhite. “The wins and losses, he made me feel comforted, told me that everything was going to be OK. That’s one thing that kind of remained in mind. And just having that familiar face at a new school and it being a big-name school like Nebraska, I felt that it was just too much to pass away.”

During his recruitment, the thought of living outside Texas made Mathis a bit uncomfortable because he’s never done it. But his experience at the Huskers’ spring game helped calm the nerves.

“It was the day before the spring game, and having that opportunity to sit back and just try to keep an open mind,” Mathis said. “Going to the spring game had let me know that the support system is actually there for me. A big point was the support system was there, and going away from home for the first time outside of Texas was not that big of a deal at the end of the day.”

There were other factors outside of Applewhite and Nebraska’s support system that helped win over Mathis. The way Husker defensive coordinator Erik Chinander wanted to use Mathis on the field intrigued the edge rusher, too.

“More importantly, I like the playbook. The playbook I’d say was better fit for my playing style,” Mathis said.

At times playing in TCU’s defense, Mathis said he felt a mental overload. He was often expected to read and react instead of attacking full speed. Sometimes he had coverage duties as an outside ‘backer and needed to look to see what the receivers were doing. It was a lot of thinking, which sometimes slowed him down.

That won’t be the case at Nebraska, Mathis said.

“Seeing that Nebraska said that they weren’t going to have me thinking as much as I did. I sat down with Coach (Mike) Dawson and Coach Chinander and looked at the playbook and looked at the plays from last season and the prior season,” Mathis said. “Having that opportunity, I’ve seen that they are not reading, they’re straight getting off the ball, which is something I’ve always wished to do.”

TCU’s defense was similar to what Mathis played in at Manor High School. It’s been a long time coming, but Mathis believes he’ll finally get the opportunity to be unleashed.

“I found times that I was having to stutter-step off the line a few times and look back, and they weren’t times for me to actually read something,” Mathis said of TCU’s defense. “So getting out of that state of mind to where I can actually get off the ball, play with fanatical effort and play to my full potential and full speed is something that I value a lot.”

Mathis wants to improve his technique at the line of scrimmage as well. At TCU, he said, “It wasn’t too much of a technique base, it was more of a defensive-scheme-based type thing.” He wants to change that about his game and get more detailed with his moves. He’s excited about the teachers he has in his own room.

“Coming into Nebraska, I see these guys and they’re doing a lot of different things that I wasn’t used to,” Mathis said. “So just being able to see that, it makes me excited to know that I can actually learn those things from the good guys like Garrett Nelson, Caleb Tannor and Blaise (Gunnerson) and all those guys. They’re introducing me to all these new things, which is going to help me in the long run.”

Mathis used all the resources he could while trying to learn about Nebraska. One was Texas transfer Casey Thompson, the Huskers’ projected starting quarterback. Mathis’ TCU teams were 2-2 against Thompson’s Longhorn squads.

Last season, Texas got the best of TCU with a 32-27 win. Thompson went 12-of-22 for 142 passing yards and one touchdown with one interception. Mathis was credited with five tackles and one quarterback hurry. The Longhorns rushed for 272 yards that day, and Thompson had a 41-yard run that was made possible after getting past Mathis on a rollout.

Mathis said he was on the phone with Thompson for two to three hours the day before Mathis committed to Nebraska. Those discussions helped convince Mathis that Big Red was the program best suited to help him reach the next level.

“I made sure to do my fair share of trying to look at other guys from Texas and Nebraska, talk to a few guys and ask my last few questions,” Mathis said. “Casey Thompson, he did his fair share of getting on the phone with me and giving me the rundown of things up to what leads on to campus, what’s the transition like, what’s the lifestyle of living in Lincoln. And most importantly, just telling me how practices go.

“Everything is more of a professional standpoint than just a collegiate standpoint, everything that will prepare me for the next level.”

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