NORMAL — Zack Mathews attributes part of his rise up the Illinois State depth chart to refusing “to take no for an answer.”
That doesn’t mean the Redbird senior linebacker is argumentative. But persistent, dedicated and driven? Certainly.
“He gave up a scholarship (at NAIA Robert Morris) to walk on here,” ISU coach Brock Spack said. “He wanted to play at a higher level. He’s worked his way up the ladder.”
Mathews, who led all Redbird defenders with nine tackles in Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage at Hancock Stadium, is currently ISU’s first-string will linebacker.
“It’s been a long process,” Mathews said. “I had an injury my first year then last year I was on special teams. Now I’ve made my way to starting on defense. I stuck to it, and it’s all worked out for me.”
The 6-foot-1, 235-pound Mathews, who is now on scholarship, also was credited with two sacks and a forced fumble Saturday.
“He seemed to be around the ball quite a bit today,” said Spack. “He’s played very well. He’s really smart, a hard worker and tough.”
Another Redbird hoping to emerge as a force in his final season is wide receiver Matt Biegalski, who snared four passes for 65 yards and a touchdown in Saturday’s workout.
Biegalski recorded six of his seven career catches last season and is part of a herd of receivers vying for playing time on the outside to complement standout slot man Spencer Schnell.
“It definitely helps,” Biegalski said of his time in the program. “I know the plays a little better. I can perfect my craft and work on little stuff. And it helps me help the younger kids with routes and plays and whatever it may be."
Biegalski sat out spring practices while rehabilitating a knee injury that did not require surgery.
“That would be a real plus for us. He has experience, he’s a big guy and he likes to block,” Spack said of Biegalski. “He’s put a lot of stress on the knee, but he hasn’t missed any workouts. He’s a hard worker with good ball skills.”
Kentre Patterson caught three passes for 67 yards, while impressive true freshman Taylor Grimes had three receptions for 31 yards. Braxton Haley’s lone reception was a 48-yard toss from Brady Davis.
“There is a lot of competition (at receiver). It pushes everybody every single day,” said Biegalski. “You’ve got to come to play every day, get in the playbook and work as hard as you can.”
Jordan Birch topped the rushers with 57 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. Markel Smith broke a 57-yard run for a score.
Returning starter Jake Kolbe paced the quarterbacks with 132 yards on 13 of 18 accuracy. Davis completed 5 of 12 for 98 yards.
True freshman Bryce Jefferson was 3 of 8 for 45 yards, sophomore Tristan Smith 4 of 8 for 32 yards and redshirt freshman Trenton Hatfield 3 of 5 for 35 yards.
“Everybody had their moments. There were also some mistakes made,” said Spack. “The big pass early from Davis was impressive.”
Linebackers Ty DeForest and Dex Kelly-Martin and safety Mitchell Brees had six tackles apiece. Lineman Jason Lewan had two sacks, while Charles Woods and Willie Edwards intercepted passes.
Contending for the place-kicker job, Sam Fenlason hit field goals of 32, 31 and 24 yards.