Claude Mathis built a lasting Texas high school football legacy.
During his seven seasons at DeSoto, Mathis compiled a 74-18 record and led the Eagles to consecutive state semifinal appearances in 2012 and 2013. Under Mathis, DeSoto rose as one of the state’s true powerhouse programs.
Following the 2014 season, Mathis made the jump to the college ranks as he joined Chad Morris’ staff at SMU and rode off into the sunset.
Or so it seemed.
Mathis returned to the high school level this offseason when he inked a deal with Marshall, a proud program in East Texas that was hungry for success.
“This community of Marshall has really made me feel welcomed,” Mathis said. “It’s an unbelievable community that has really stood behind my staff, my family and me. They have supported me going through the moving process. It’s just unbelievable. It’s been a wonderful feeling to have this support.”
So why did Mathis, who actually briefly took a job at Houston before ending back up at DeSoto just a month later in 2012, return to the high school level?
The answer is quite simple. Mathis missed coaching Texas high school football and, more importantly, had an opportunity to work with his son Champ, a junior defensive back.
“My son is a big reason why I came back,” Mathis said. “I love high school football. College is great, but with high school football, there is such a big fraternity of coaches. It’s unbelievable. It’s great coaching high school football. But my son was the biggest reason. It’s one of the greatest feelings to have to be able to coach your son.”
During his stop at SMU, Mathis coached two of the most talented running backs in the American Athletic Conference in Braeden West and Xavier Jones and was part of a complete culture rebuild on the Hilltop.
While his stint as a part of Morris’ staff was short, Mathis learned a lot from one of college football’s rising stars.
“You always have to have three answers,” Mathis said. “If not, it’s not going in the game plan. He paid so much attention to detail. I really took that with me. I was always a patient guy, but I became even more patient with our kids in practice. It helped me out a whole lot. His attention to detail is what makes him one of the best coaches out there.”
Mathis has used Morris’ sage advice at Marshall. In fact, it was advice from Morris, who had plenty of success at the high school level as he led Austin Lake Travis to two straight state championships, that kept him sane in the face adversity.
You see, Marshall didn’t exactly get off to an ideal start under Mathis. The Mavericks looked less than stellar in scrimmages and started off the regular season 0-4, including a blowout loss at the hands of Longview.
Mathis began questioning himself. But it didn’t take log for him to realize something Morris always reiterated.
“One thing that Coach Morris told me when I left was to be me and understand that Rome was not built overnight,” Mathis said. “I continued to hear those words. I wanted it to happen now. But I thought about my first season at DeSoto, where I went 1-4. Here, I’m 0-4. I had to take a step back and be me.”
Mathis has one of the most magnetic personalities in the whole state and knows how to relate to kids. Once he let loose and left the pressure behind, success quickly followed.
Marshall won its district opener over a tough Texas High team in a close battle that helped the team bond. After that, Marshall found its groove under Mathis, trouncing Sulphur Springs, Mt. Pleasant, Greenville and Hallsville — all by at least 30 points.
“We always had it, but we never believed until the new staff arrived,” said senior offensive lineman Chasen Hines, an LSU commit. “We had a head coach, but we didn’t know what a head coach was really supposed to be like until Coach Mathis came.
“He’s the best coach we’ve had in my four years. He’s a great father figure and always gives out advice. That’s what we like about him the most.”
Senior defensive end Marje Smith, a Baylor pledge, added:
“Coach Mathis has meant a lot. He always checks up on us and jokes around with us. He makes sure we get everything done in the classroom. He’s the same way on the field. We joke and play, but when he means business, we know we have to do what we have to do.”
Marshall wrapped up its regular season on Friday by knocking off Longview Pine Tree, 28-17, en route to capturing the 16-5A district championship and locking up a first round matchup against West Mesquite at home.
While Marshall has the chance to make a deep playoff run this season, Mathis’ vision is bigger than that. He wants to build Marshall into a state championship contender not only this year but beyond.
“It can happen,” Mathis said. “It’s a great scenario at Marshall because it’s a one-horse town, where all the kids are feeding into your school, and the community supports athletics so much. It’s a great spot to get another state championship.
“We have the kids, the talent, the administration support and the community. We have a chance to be great.”
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