By Matthew Case
Football and yoga may seem like a unique pairing, but former NFL wide receiver Grant Mattos happens to be the human embodiment of the combination.
Mattos grew up in Mountain View, California aspiring to play in the NFL while idolizing the likes of Jerry Rice. Unbeknownst to a young Mattos, he would eventually run routes with Rice as a Denver Bronco. Prior to the NFL, Mattos was a wide receiver for the University of Southern California Trojans. Carson Palmer, then teammate at USC and current quarterback of the Arizona Cardinals, previously remarked, “[Mattos] has awesome hands, and he doesn’t drop anything.”
After winning the Orange Bowl with USC, Mattos participated in the Trojans’ pro day where Marty Schottenheimer of the San Diego Chargers took notice. Looking back upon his entire career, Mattos considers the aforementioned moment one of his best football memories, and it makes sense statistically bearing in mind the minuscule odds even a college player has of making it to the NFL.
“I did everything I could, and I did it well on pro day,” Mattos said. “Marty came up to me and said, ‘The opportunity is yours if you want it.’ The hard work paid off, and I celebrated with my father who was always there to support me.”
The hard work is a reference to the training Mattos did with the influential Marv Marinovich. After USC teammate Troy Polamalu introduced Mattos to Marinovich, the rest was history. Mattos went from mentally preparing to retire his pads to being able to test well at pro day. He graciously and humbly credited Marinovich with assisting him.
“Many immensely talented players don’t make it to the NFL due to misfortune in luck or untimely injury.”
Marinovich’s approach joined with Mattos’ catch-everything philosophy and well-deserved reputation for the same resulted in the birth of an NFL career and the simultaneous realization of a dream.
Statistics can be biased, and the statistic regarding the average NFL career in terms of years is no exception. However, whether one echoes the NFL or the NFLPA, it was foreseeable and inevitable that Mattos would have a life after playing football. What was not foreseeable was that it would be as a yogi; yet such was and is precisely his path.
From Turf to Yoga Mat
Although Mattos retained the frame of a football player when he hung up his cleats, it is incontrovertibly appropriate to label him a gentle giant. In fact, Mattos guides his yoga classes with such a calm, reassuring tone that his stature is almost surprising. Stark contrasts can easily be drawn between yoga and football, but when asked about similarities, Mattos spoke of “hitting walls and getting to the next level.”
While a wall in football was “adjusting to the speed of play” in the NFL, a wall in yoga was “facing rooted, hidden truths as they surfaced.” For instance, the “spiritual aspect of yoga uncovered” how football was more than a game he loved. Football was a tie connecting Mattos to his father.
Interestingly enough, Mattos’ atypical transformation from pro football player to yoga instructor did not evolve without additional walls being hit in the transition phase. In essence, having always been “Grant, the football player,” he was abruptly forced to reinvent himself, and it turned out to be a process. During the intricate course of this general challenge, Mattos actually encountered some specific challenges on the television show Survivor. He laughed at the discernable irony regarding the copious occasions in which he has been recognized for the show rather than football.
“The experience was in many ways more challenging than training camp,” Mattos said. “Given a little rice and a little water in an isolated environment, it was make it work or don’t.”
Mattos did make it work for over a month in what he labels “an eye-opening experience.”
“[Without the] immense excess, I saw the path of my life and haven’t looked back since – simply moving forward,” Mattos said.
An All Encompassing Life
Even with his spell on Survivor, branding Mattos as the most accomplished on-screen performer in the family would be an egregiously gross overstatement.
The reason being is that part, or more aptly, the near entirety of his envisioned and partly lived path includes his now spouse, Christina Cox.
In 2013, Christina appeared in the blockbuster film Elysium, and she has athletic prowess herself as partially evidenced by her boxing role in Million Dollar Baby.
“She has changed my life in the best of ways,” said Grant with a face of certain sincerity.
The two have lovingly welcomed a baby girl, or in his words “a piece of both of us in one little being,” and rumor has it that Mattos carries his daughter around even more sure-handedly than he caught footballs, if that is even possible.
When asked whether he misses the gridiron, Mattos admitted, “brief moments of nostalgia,” with a smile. Sentimental flashes are only natural, especially if your stockpile of memories includes playing for the Broncos, Titans, and Chargers and even catching passes from Doug Flutie.
His amusement left him as his disposition and demeanor shifted.
“Sometimes I think I could totally do this again if not in the NFL, Canada, or at least the eight-year-old boy inside me does – the one emulating Jerry Rice,” Mattos said. “Then, I try to understand why this is coming up, to fulfill an ego possibly. See, I can still do a wicked workout, but one day is different than the next day, and day eighty-five.”
What he missed most seemed to be competing against the best.
His facial expression bore weight in the reflection. A yogi may have even noticed it alter into a pseudo-drishti gaze as his present focus blurred back to past laboring efforts. Coupling his playing experience under Pete Carroll with the fact that yoga was required last year for the Super Bowl winning Seahawks, Grant would surely fit in today at Seattle.
However, Mattos picking up the pigskin again would be to the dismay and possibly even tackling protest of one group – his yoga students.
Besides, if you ask Grant, he’s already right where he’s supposed to be.