Bayron Matos moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee from the Dominican Republic as a sophomore in high school not knowing any English. But, only about a year later, he built up the courage to speak in front of his school’s chapel service — in English.
“A- the guts that takes, and B- just how much he’s learning in a quick manner,” Matos’ host dad, Zach Monroe, said. “It was unbelievable … It just was that first moment where like man, to stand up and have the courage to do that A, and B do it in a language you haven’t even been around but not even a year.”
Despite the initial difficult language barrier, Monroe said Matos’ “massive personality” allowed him to gravitate toward his family and become a big brother to his children.
Matos is known for his strong personality and charm, but also his determination, Monroe said.
There was no American football in the Dominican Republic, so when Matos moved to Tennessee, he became intrigued. He grew up playing baseball most of his life and basketball for the last seven years, but he wanted to try a sport that could excite him more.
“I got hungry,” Matos said. “Like I gotta play. I want more aggressive games. I like to scream … get people mad. And in basketball you can get a foul if you [don’t do something] the right way. So basically, I want to experience something new where I can be me.
“I can show out there everything I have. I have four years to play football … I have a lot to learn … but the thing for me is when I put my mind on something I will do it.”
Matos was persistent that he would play one day, but Monroe never thought he was serious. He was shocked when he found out he was switching.
As the tallest player on the team, Matos stands at 6-foot-9-inches. In high school, Monroe would joke that he could’ve been a football player if he were born in the U.S. because of his strong build and stature.
But without knowing how the game works and his high school not having a football team, Matos was enthralled in basketball.
“He would always want to throw the football and watch it and all that kind of stuff,” Monroe said. “But he was focused on basketball and getting a basketball scholarship. And trying to be recruited for basketball.”
Even though Matos began playing basketball in the Dominican Republic, when he started playing in the U.S. he didn’t realize he could go to college for it and get a scholarship.
“I remember when I got my first offer. It was for the Florida Gators. I was eating Chipotle after a game and my coach said ‘You got an offer for college,’” Matos said. “I was like, I like this. I got a future.”
Matos got 16 offers and ended up at New Mexico for his freshman year where he started 15 games and played in 20. While at Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, he ranked No. 3 in the state and No. 16 in the country after posting the most rebounds in Tennessee.
In the Dominican Republic, Matos was known for his skills in baseball, but he was not passionate about it.
“I used to be a baseball player. That’s what I did my whole life. I was pretty good at it … but I didn’t like it,” he said. “Everybody used to see me as a baseball player, but I didn’t see myself as a baseball player. I was good at it, because when I do something, I do it all the way.”
Now with football, he believes he can really show his abilities, strength and power. Despite not having a football background, coach Jeff Scott welcomed him with open arms, so Matos said he is repaying him with this work ethic.
While he knows his play time will be limited this season, he is hoping to use his first two years of eligibility as a learning experience.
“I’ve never been in a football game before, I’ve never played in a game,” he said. “I want to see how that feels and get in a little play time and keep learning and learning alone now. I’m taking these two couple years as a learning [experience]. But my junior and senior years … are going to be scary.”
No matter how challenging it seems going into a new sport in the middle of his college career, Matos is determined to succeed and will work hard to achieve.
“I’m the type of person that visualizes my future,” he said. “When I want something, I’ll work so hard because you got the ups and downs of life and something that someone can never take away from you is … the way that you work.”