Robby Anderson kept looking over at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ sideline, trying to find his former Temple teammate.
Anderson’s team, the New York Jets, was playing Tyler Matakevich and the Steelers, a meeting between two members of last year’s historic Temple team that tied the program record for wins in a season.
Though the former teammates never matched up on Oct. 9 at Heinz Field, Anderson posted a picture on Instagram of himself and Matakevich together on the field afterward with the caption: “Beating the odds became natural to us la familia.”
Matakevich and Anderson, along with Baltimore Ravens cornerback Tavon Young, are three Temple rookies seeing playing time early in their NFL careers. After beginning the season on the practice squad, defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis is now on the Washington Redskins’ 53-man roster and has played in five games.
A Temple player hadn’t been drafted since 2012, until Young Ioannidis and Matakevich were selected in June’s NFL Draft. Along with Anderson, who joined the Jets as an undrafted free agent, the four players make up half of the former Temple athletes currently playing in the NFL.
“It’s just a huge step for this program,” Matakevich told The Temple News. “Now everyone has the opportunity to see, ‘Hey, I can make it to the NFL with going to Temple.’ People might have doubted that before. … Four guys from one class making it to the NFL, I think it’s huge for the program and the university.”
Young has played in all seven of the Ravens’ games this season, and got his first start on Oct. 16 against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium, where he made a diving interception that circulated the internet. He made his second-straight start on Sunday against the Jets. Young made a season-high six tackles, including two against Anderson.
He has 20 tackles and two interceptions already in his career and credits the Temple program for his quick transition.
“The way they coached us, the way they taught us to study film, it helped prepare me,” Young said.
Matakevich, who is affectionately called ‘Dirty Red’ in Pittsburgh, also said the standard to “do a little extra” set by coach Matt Rhule and his Temple coaching staff helped prepare him for the NFL. He plays on all four special teams units.
While he’s seen limited action on defense in seven games, he filled in at linebacker and totaled nine total tackles against the Miami Dolphins on Oct. 16.
Anderson has seen significant action due to a depleted Jets receiving unit that lost Eric Decker for the season. The former Temple wide receiver has a catch in the team’s last five games and has started the last four contests for New York. Anderson had a season-high 41 receiving yards against Baltimore and added a 30-yard run.
“When I first came into Temple in 2011, there was a flow of guys going to the NFL and making things happen,” Anderson said. “It did hit a little bit of a drought, but I feel like it’s back on the rise and me, Tyler and Tavon have really opened back up those doors and shed some light onto the program.”
The group has stayed close to the Owls’ program even after graduation. Young checks in with his former teammates whenever he can.
Matakevich has watched all of Temple’s games this year. He stayed awake in the Steelers’ hotel room during the Owls’ Oct. 15 game against Central Florida watching senior quarterback Phillip Walker, who has adopted Matakevich’s old No. 8. He woke up his roommate when Walker tossed the game-winning touchdown.
Anderson went to the Owls’ season opener with Jets’ teammate Muhammad Wilkerson, another Temple alumnus. He hopes to return to the team at some point this season to share his NFL experiences.
“That’s my family forever,” Anderson said. “I want to talk to the team and teach them some things that this time last year I had no idea about and just give them a little insight.”
Owen McCue can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @Owen_McCue.