By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Josue Matias left Florida State with a national championship ring, three ACC title rings and All-ACC honors from his sophomore, junior and senior years.
About the only thing he didn't have was his FSU degree.
That, however, changed earlier this month when, upon the completion of a few semesters' worth of remaining coursework, Matias graduated from Florida State with his bachelor's degree in social science.
“I just knew I had to graduate,” Matias said from his home in Nashville, Tenn., where he's participating in offseason training activities with the NFL's Tennessee Titans.
“I couldn't leave Florida State without a degree. It was for my parents and myself. I just had to do it.”
To begin that process, Matias, a three-year starter at left guard, enrolled in Florida State's degree completion program, a recently-created system that connects former Seminole student-athletes with resources and advisors to put them back on track.
Re-enrolling isn't difficult, but does require some legwork – the type that often separates those who truly want to graduate from those who just pay lip service to the idea.
Matias had to submit an online application and, once approved, develop a roadmap of courses that led to his degree.
He could seek advice from FSU's academic support staff but otherwise had to do everything for himself.
Matias never wavered in his commitment.
“Josue was adamant about getting it done,” said Ashton Henderson, Florida State's associate director of football advising and a former defensive back at Michigan State. “And it meant more to him and his family. He constantly called, constantly asked questions. He was always engaged throughout the whole process.”
That's not to say it was a breeze.
Still based in Nashville, Matias' entire course load was made up of online classes, where there was no attendance taken, no lectures and no study groups to lean on for support.
Turns out that all those years under offensive line coach Rick Trickett, whose tough-as-nails style is meant to foster self-control and personal accountability, came in handy.
“It takes a lot of discipline to go to those classes,” Matias said. “Because there were days when I just didn't want to do school work. And it's very easy just not to do it, because nobody's watching. You're just online. It's all on you.”
Matias started by taking a few hours per semester, slowly chipping away at his remaining courses.
Then, last fall, what appeared to be a significant setback to his football aspirations turned out to be a turning point for Matias' academic career.
While fighting to secure a roster spot with the Titans, Matias suffered a knee injury during a preseason game and, following surgery, missed the entire season.
Matias couldn't play football, but, blessed with an unexpected amount of free time, found he could up his efforts in the classroom.
He signed up for a full-time course load in the fall of 2016 and then took another in the spring.
With his academic career in high gear, Matias came upon a startling realization: He was on track to graduate at the end of the spring semester.
“(The injury) kind of was a blessing in disguise, honestly,” Matias said. “Because I wasn't going to be able to take a full load in the fall during the season. The injury did help me focus on school more while I was hurt.”
Like most graduating students, Matias had one last test in one last class before he knew he was finished.
In Matias' case, that class was a religion course, and the exam required that he take it in person – not online.
So Matias drove to an approved testing center on the campus at Tennessee State University, where he put pen to paper for the final time.
Soon after, Matias learned that he had passed.
He then called his mother, Martina, to celebrate.
“She was all skipping and hopping and laughing,” Matias said. “She was very happy.”
Matias still plans to pursue football for as long as he can, and believes he has a good shot at catching on with the Titans this season.
But, with his degree in hand, he's turned an eye toward the future, too.
Matias is already entertaining the notion of graduate school, and would like to one day get into the education field – and maybe even try his hand at coaching.
“I want to get to help kids,” Matias said, “and help them reach their dreams.”
Henderson, meanwhile, hopes that Matias' story can inspire other former Seminoles to come back to Florida State and follow in his footsteps.
Henderson said there are eight former student-athletes currently participating in the degree completion program – including some recognizable names from the 1990s and 2000s – and several more flirting with the idea.
“Josue is just hopefully one of the many more stories we have to share,” Henderson said. “And hopefully we can foster and cultivate a level of people feeling more comfortable to come back and obtain their degree.
“When someone reaches out, I'll have (Matias) as a resource to say, ‘Hey, this is someone you should call to kind of help you balance, find out how did they get through it, answer any questions you have.'”