There’s this kid you know. A high school senior. Plays football hard, but he’s nothing special on the field. He’s around six feet in cleats, maybe tops out at 200 pounds after dinner, and he’s neither fast nor skilled enough to be anyone’s idea of a big-time, blue-chip prospect. In fact, he didn’t start a game until senior year, and although he holds down his position competently, it’s obvious he doesn’t have the size, speed, or strength necessary to get on the national college recruiting map.

You like the kid, though, and you’re trying to figure out a plan for him to play ball in college, but pragmatism keeps taking over. Kids like this have their parents pay for school. Kids like this don’t play on ESPN on Saturdays in the fall. What happens next, however, when the kid in question is William Clay Matthews III, the latest in an unbroken line of football royalty dating to the 1950s, is a declaration.

“I’m going to play football at USC.”

Yes, that USC. The University of Southern California was, in 2004, home to Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, and dozens more future NFL players—a team that would win an eventually vacated national championship the year ­Matthews arrived armed only with a bad haircut and a dream. “I don’t even think Clay shaved at that point,” says New York Jets linebacker Joey Larocque, Matthews’ high school teammate and best friend since grammar school. “But I was like, ‘You do your thing, and I’ll do mine, and hopefully we’ll meet up in the end.’ But seriously, who knew?”

For the full article be sure to check out the October issue of Muscle & Fitness magazine, on newsstands now!

In the meantime, check out these exclusive images of Clay: CLAY MATTHEWS GALLERY from our photoshoot with the October 2011 Muscle & Fitness cover athlete.