BOISE - Steven Matlock is comfortable in these surroundings and it's apparent.
On Monday, sheltered inside Boise State's Caven-Williams training facility, he fields questions just a few short steps away from the blue-tinted turf that can be seen in large segments of his high school recruiting tape. Capital High itself is just a 6-mile trip from where Idaho is holding its practice sessions this week.
It's all a familiar scene for the Vandals' senior center, who's never hesitated to let the world know where he comes from.
Matlock's identity on Twitter? "The Boise Flash."
But home won't truly feel like home until Thursday evening, when Matlock's eyes veer toward his own cheering section situated in the frosty metal bleachers of Albertsons Stadium. They'll zoom in on the young face of a 16-year-old boy and he'll be grinning from ear to ear.
In the days leading up to the Potato Bowl (4 p.m. PST, ESPN), Matlock swelled with pride while speaking about his younger brother Scott. It's not uncommon for Steven to reflect on the journey they've shared. Lately, it's been all positives, but that hasn't always been the case.
The siblings were slammed with one major tragedy in 2009 and another in 2013.
Seven years ago, they lost their father, Doug Matlock, to testicular cancer. He'd been receiving treatment in California when Steven Matlock found him dead on July 11, 2009.
Four years later, not long after Steven enrolled in classes at the U of I and began playing college football for the Vandals, his mother died unexpectedly of heart disease. Scott, just 13 at the time, discovered her.
The Matlock siblings have spent nearly three years without their parents. The support system they'd known was ripped out from underneath them, so Steven and Scott did the only thing they could: lean on one another.
"He's had a great opportunity just to get away from it all, start fresh and I think he's grown up to become a great young man," Steven Matlock said of his brother.
COPING & HEALING
As an offensive lineman, protection is one of Matlock's primary duties.
It's also something that became pivotal once his father died. Matlock mourned, but he knew he'd need to be a reinforcement for his younger brother.
"I knew I had to step up and become the father figure that he looked up to," Matlock said. " I wasn't always right, which is kind of tough for me to get used to and admit."
The burden grew even larger when his mother died. It meant that Scott lost his only guardian and Steven, because he was now living 300 miles away, wasn't able to fill the void logistically or legally.
Scott became a ward of the state and after bouncing around between homes, he finally found permanent shelter in Wilder, Idaho. He'd live in a foster home and attend Homedale High, a 3A school located nearly 40 minutes outside of Boise.
Steven was heavily involved the process in finding a good home for his brother.
"They're a great family, I love them," Steven said.
One year later, Scott Matlock was adopted by his foster family. When he turns 18, he'll become a legal adult and have the option to stay in Wilder, or move out and begin a new life.
For now, Scott Matlock is enjoying his fresh start.
He acquired a job at the local bowling alley, which is owned by his foster family. He plays football, "obviously because he wants to follow in my footsteps," Steven said, but has also discovered a passion for basketball and isn't too shabby on the golf links.
"Better than me, probably," Steven selflessly admitted.
Steven, meanwhile, found his own safe haven inside the Kibbie Dome with the only college football program that recognized his potential.
HEART OVER SIZE
Coaches from Idaho State and Weber State no longer walk through Capital High's football offices without hearing about the player they missed out on.
"I constantly remind them, 'Hey, this kid was a great football player, I told you he was going to be,' " said Roman Keefe, Matlock's offensive line coach at Capital. "I don't let people forget that."
For his current position, or truly any position on the offensive line, Matlock would be considered by most as undersized. Vandal coach Paul Petrino is almost sure he'll have to play fullback at the next level.
Matlock is listed at 6-foot-2 and 272 pounds - measurables that most college programs, regardless of status, won't even touch. By comparison, Idaho's other starters on the front five measure out at 6-5, 6-9, 6-4 and 6-6. Three of those four weigh at least 300 pounds.
"I know that I kind of got into it with (Idaho State and Weber State) coaches about it," Keefe said. "There's something more to football than just being 6-5. That he's got a heart, he's got a motor, he's got an intensity about them. All those things I saw, I would tell everybody."
Keefe, who Matlock said was an important male figure in his life after the death of his father, describes his former player as a "pistol."
Idaho coaches recognized the same thing almost instantly.
"It's part of his deal," UI offensive line coach Kris Cinkovich said. "He's probably going to work the edge a bit and it's part of his passion."
Quarterback Matt Linehan calls it a "controlled crazy."
"There's definitely a screw loose there," Linehan said. "In a good way."
Unlike every other program, the Vandals were willing to take a leap of faith on Matlock, though they initially planned to greyshirt him.
Then Idaho's linemen began dropping like flies and he received an unexpected call from Jon Carvin, who was coaching the O-line.
Matlock remembers playing "Call of Duty" when the phone rang.
"He said, 'What's up Matlock?' and I said, 'What's up, coach?' And he's like, 'What are you doing?' 'I'm just hanging out playing games,' " Matlock recalled. "He's like, 'Right on. Pack your (expletive), you're coming up.' And I said, 'What?' And he's like, 'Yeah, we need you up here by Monday.' "
Forty-eight hours later, Matlock was traveling to Moscow.
More wounds in the Vandal trenches meant Matlock was promoted from scout team to backup guard. Later the same season, he assumed a starting role - one he hasn't relinquished in four years at Idaho.
"This little redheaded dude comes in and I'm like, 'How's this guy going to help us?' " Cinkovich remembered. "Then he started hitting people and moving around and he was better than what we had and started playing immediately and should've."
Matlock returns to his hometown as the centerpiece of an offensive line that's helped key Idaho's turnaround. The Vandals won six games his first three years, but head into bowl season with an 8-4 record.
Much of that is the work of Matlock's unit, which is shielding Linehan better than it has under Petrino. Opponents are sacking the UI QB less than two times per game and the Vandal running backs are averaging more than 140 yards per game on the ground.
Matlock is finishing his senior season strongly, though it didn't necessarily begin that way.
In June, only one week before his 21st birthday, he was cited for allegedly stealing two cases of beer worth $42.38 from Rosauers in Moscow.
Matlock was indefinitely suspended and held out of team activities for one and a half months until his legal situation was sorted out.
"As much as we kind of take for granted how much time we are on the field, how tired we are during speed ball, how tired we are during the scrimmages, it sucked being on the outside watching them get better," he said.
And Idaho's O-line took a nosedive as a result.
But, as Cinknovich noted, "We got our equilibrium back and he's in the middle of it."
Before the season, Matlock was named to the watch list of the Rimington Award. Recently, he garnered all-conference mention from the Sun Belt Conference.
And on Thursday, Matlock's story will have come full-circle - quite fittingly in his own backyard.
Lawson may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2260. Follow him on Twitter @TheoLawson_Trib.