ALBUQUERQUE — Just like most things in life, the things that used to be true way back when aren’t necessarily the same a couple decades later.
When Terance Mathis toured his former stomping grounds at The University of New Mexico this past week, he saw much of the old replaced with something new. The dorms he used to call home are different, the main drag he used to walk is now lined with orange barrels and new buildings.
Even his old locker room is gone, replaced by a modern facility in a stadium that bares a new name and a lot more bells and whistles than it used to.
A former All-America wide receiver for the Lobo football team, Mathis was back in town Saturday night to see his name go up on the facade of the press box. He became the fifth member of UNM’s ring of honor, his last name and uniform number plastered there with Lobo greats Brian Urlacher, Don Perkins, Mike Williams and Bobby Santiago.
He spoke to the crowd of over 32,000 during the Lobos’ loss to New Mexico State, dedicating his honor to the fans, his former teammates and all the players that came to UNM before and after he left.
His journey to Loboland wasn’t exactly smooth.
Mathis was recruited to UNM by former Lobos assistant Ben Griffith as a quarterback, not a receiver. Mathis played a little under center as a kid in Detroit and later in high school in the Atlanta suburb of Stone Mountain, Ga.
Griffith was a college coach in Georgia and expressed interest in Mathis before he had taken a job on coach Joe Lee Dunn’s staff at New Mexico. Mathis took an official visit to campus in May 1985 after school had let out.
At 5-foot-9 and just 145 pounds, he wasn’t much to look at. In an age when linemen were just starting to approach 300 pounds and skill players were getting taller and taller, Mathis was even small by mid-1980s standards.
A pragmatic man who wasn’t big on small talk, Dunn’s recruiting pitch to Mathis was short and, well, not extremely sweet.
“Before I left, Joe Lee Dun said to me, he says ‘We have one scholarship left and Ben Griffith thinks you deserve it so I’m going to give it to you,’ ” Mathis said. “That’s the way Joe Lee talked. It wasn’t like, ‘Welcome.’ It was just like, ‘I’m gonna give it to you.’ And that’s how it happened for me to get here on campus.”
It wasn’t always smooth sailing for Mathis in Albuquerque. He ran into academic problems that forced him to sit out the 1988 season. He entertained transfer offers from several schools, including Arizona and TCU. He decided to come back to UNM despite a coaching change to Mike Sheppard and the Lobos’ notoriously bad late run in the late-1980s.
The team never won more than four games in his time there. They were 0-11 in 1987 and 2-10 his senior season in 1989 when he became the school’s first consensus All-American after setting what was then the NCAA receiving record for yardage.
He said coming this far west with no family and so many doubters forced him to grow up quickly.
“I remember my mom says, ‘Hey, you have to grow up,’ ” Mathis said. “And I grew up in a hurry. Thing is, along the way I was getting molded and mentored by some other guys that was playing in the NFL, then Mike Sheppard came along and put me in this pro-style offense that helped me when it was time for me to transition leaving here to playing in the NFL.”
Mathis went on to a 12-year career in the NFL, spending eight of them with the Atlanta Falcons. He helped the Falcons reach Super Bowl XXXIII, leading the team in receiving while catching a touchdown pass in that loss to the Broncos.
He officially retired following the 2002 season with 689 catches for 63 touchdowns and nearly 9,000 yards.
He said he tries to keep up with the Lobos as much as possible, but living two time zones away makes staying up late for many of UNM’s games a little rough. Now a head football coach at a high school in Georgia, he is going full circle by molding players of his own.
Upon his return to UNM this weekend, he toured the campus, marveled at the massive construction project on Central Avenue and stopped by Gardunos for a heaping helping of green chile.
He also received an authentic game-worn jersey of his Friday night. The cherry jersey with white No. 15 seemed a little smaller than he remembered but it did bring back memories.
“I opened it up and just went, ‘Wow,’ ” Mathis said. “It brought chills.”