Photo/Zac Chamblee

For Matthew Ryals, Southern Miss is not just his favorite school and football team. It’s a family affair. 

His grandfather, Torris, suited up for the Golden Eagles in the 1950’s, and his father, Chris, did the same from 1988-1991. So when Jay Hopson offered Ryals an opportunity to become a third-generation Southern Miss football player, he jumped on the opportunity and never looked back, even with a handful of SEC programs hot on his tail. 

“In March when I committed, I kinda told them all where I was gonna go,” Ryals said. “They all kept texting me and asking if I was 100 percent committed, and I told them ‘Yes’. I really had no other interest in playing anywhere besides Southern Miss.”

The Purvis offensive lineman made his decision official on Wednesday, putting pen to paper during the early signing period. 

“It’s a big day,” Ryals said. “It’s just special to be able to follow in my dad’s footsteps and just be a third-generation Eagle. Just a very special day that I’ll always remember.

“Since I was in seven-year-old football I’ve been waiting for this day right here.”

Ryals will be the first to tell you, though, that he had to come a long way to reach this point.

“In ninth grade, I was fat and out of shape,” he said. “I might’ve been big and ok at football, but I was not where I needed to be to be a college football player.”

Soon after, Purvis basketball coach Todd Kimble, who now coaches at Petal, took the three-sport athlete under his wing and whipped him into shape. 

“He [Kimble] worked me over every single day,” Ryals said. “He told me on day one that his goal was to get me a football scholarship because he knew how much football meant to me. In ninth and tenth grade before he left to go to Petal, I got quicker with my feet, stronger, more explosive. All around, basketball has made me a better football player.”

Today, the 6-foot-7, 280 pound Ryals is recognized as one the state’s top offensive lineman. He’s started at offensive tackle for Purvis the last few years, and he’ll play that same position at Southern Miss just like his dad, who never pressured him to follow in his footsteps. But, to say Chris Ryals was happy with Matthew’s decision is probably an understatement. 

“He [Chris] was ecstatic. I don’t think he would’ve been happier if I went anywhere else. That’s where he wanted me to go, and that’s where I wanted to go. Nothing can beat that.”