Chas Matthews is a champ, and he will soon have the ring to prove it.
Matthews, a former Destin Middle School Marlin and Fort Walton Beach Viking, now playing middle linebacker for the Valdosta State University Blazers helped his team defeat the Winston-Salem State Rams 35-7 last weekend in Florence, Ala., to win the school's third NCAA Division II Football National Championship.
"It was a pretty awesome experience," said the 24-year-old Destin native.
"It was a wild game, but we took it to them."
The 6-foot-2, 235-pound senior said the Blazers returned the opening kickoff about 96 yards for a touchdown.
"That started it rolling and really put them down," Matthews said.
Then on WSS’s next possession, the Blazers caused a fumble and then scored again.
"They were No. 1 or 2 in the nation coming in," Matthews said. "They thought they were going to come in and kick our butt, but we were ready for them."
Matthews was also ready as middle linebacker for the Blazers.
"Middle linebacker is kind of like the quarterback of the defense," he said. "You tell everybody the call ... they look to you to set it up. And you do a lot of hitting. That's something I was born to do."
With the national championship victory, the Blazers finished the season 12-2.
"We started the season 2-2, then we won the rest of our games," Matthews said. "We went on a nine game winning streak."
Matthews, the son of local attorney Dana Matthews and Pat, says he will graduate in May with a degree in political science.
But before he walks down the commencement aisle, he said he might participate in a "pro day" where the professional coaches come and check out the players. "They test your skill levels," he said.
"I'm kind of in between right now ... it's up in the air."
But playing professional football, "that's in every little boys heart ... something they want to do," Matthews said.
However, he realizes he's a bit older than most. "I'm not beat up, but my body is sore."
Before coming to Valdosta State four years ago, Matthews played football at West Point for Army for two years.
"The military wasn't the way I wanted to take my life forward. I felt like that wasn't my calling."
In 2009 he made the move to Valdosta State to play for the Blazers. After being red-shirted that first year, he has played middle linebacker for the Blazers the last three.
And one game that sticks out in his mind came in recent weeks, in the third round of the playoffs against Carson-Newman.
Matthews said Carson-Newman was up by a score at the half and in the second half, they tried to fake a punt.
"I met the guy at the line and knocked him back about three or four yards," Matthews said. "That kind of changed the momentum of the game and we went on to win by about three touchdowns."
For Matthews, it’s all about the love of football.
"I love the competitiveness," he said. But it's more than that, he said. "The family and friends and connections you make, you'll have for a lifetime.
"The guys I line up with are like my brothers, they'd do anything for me," Matthews said.
And although his national championship was a Division II championship, he says, "It was awesome. Playing in a championship game was the best experience ever.
"To be able to say you’re the No. 1 team in the nation ... it's hard to grasp, but a great moment."
Matthews said he's been through a lot in his football career, but "to be able to finish my football career with a national championship is awesome."
With the win comes a trophy, watch and championship ring.
Matthews’ word of advice to those who are just getting started in football, "keep following your dreams and working your butt off to get to where you want to be."