A broken leg put Rashean Mathis' football career in jeopardy in high school. All doubt was erased on Wednesday afternoon when Mathis was named to the AFC Pro-Bowl squad as a starting cornerback.
"It's more than you ever can imagine. A lot of things have to happen to get to this point," Mathis told reporters in a late-afternoon press conference following announcement of the Pro-Bowl squads.
Mathis was the only Jaguars player named to the AFC squad. Defensive tackle John Henderson and running back Fred Taylor are first alternates, which means they would play in the game if one of the elected players at their positions is unable to play. Henderson played in the 2004 season's Pro Bowl as a replacement player.
"I don't know if I can explain it other than we're a small-market city," Mathis said of being the Jaguars' lone Pro-Bowl selection. "For someone to tell me (Henderson) didn't make it; I'm here and he's not. Is it justified?"
Mathis earned his first selection to the Pro Bowl by intercepting seven passes so far this season. The AFC's other starting cornerback, Denver's Champ Bailey, is tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with eight.
"I'm highly favored. It's a blessing," Mathis said of his selection, a year after having established himself as one of the game's best big-play defenders with overtime interceptions against the Jets and Steelers, the latter of which resulted in a walk-off touchdown return.
"From a small town in Georgia and moving here to a big city and opportunities a big city gives you," Mathis said of the route that's taken him to football glory.
Mathis moved to Jacksonville when he was 12. He was recruited to Florida State but they backed off their interest in Mathis after he sustained a broken leg in the sixth game of his senior season. A plate and screws remain in Mathis' leg from that injury.
Bethune-Cookman offered Mathis a scholarship and Mathis established himself as an NFL prospect by intercepting 31 passes at B-C. The Jaguars selected him early in the second round of the 2003 draft and he quickly stepped into the starting lineup at safety, before being moved to cornerback midway through that season.
"Even at the Senior Bowl, I was, like, if these are the guys competing at the next level, I can do this," Mathis said.
Mathis looks back on the road he's taken to NFL stardom with appreciation for all of the twists in the road.
"I could've gotten lost in the numbers (at Florida State), but at Bethune-Cookman I got a chance to showcase my skills," Mathis said.
Mathis will have two games left in the 2006 regular season to showcase his skills and lead the Jaguars to a playoff berth. The Jaguars will make it into the playoffs if they win those two games.
"It's up to us, how determined we are and how well we recognize what we have in front of us. The potential we have we've shown in spurts," Mathis said.