Ole Miss’s Matt Corral faced a head-on calculation, allowing a team leader to emerge on the other side
LOS ANGELES – Matt Corral is proud of his existence on both sides of the fence. You know, the one that separates the rich from the poor, the privileged from the no, the happy from the unfortunate. Quarterback Ole Miss played football at one of the most prestigious high schools in the country. In this context, he has already fought the son of Wayne Gretzky.
He also ended up in national power in an urban setting where he made a lifelong friend. This friend is currently awaiting trial for robbery and burglary.
So, yeah, Corral’s life straddled that fence. Life has taught him to constantly turn his head to assess his surroundings. Most of the time, Corral has been up for it. As the SEC’s first returning passer, the game is ready to embrace it. The SEC’s last two returning passer were selected fourth (Kyle Trask of Florida, 2021) and fifth (Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama, 2020) overall in the NFL Draft.
A deeper story is revealed in how the junior here in Southern California learned to love himself.
The transformation took him by surprise. Part of it came last summer at a team reunion following the murder of George Floyd. Similar meetings were held between dozens of programs across the country.
It was different. It was a calculation beyond social justice. Corral was called up by teammate Otis Reese, a defensive back and transfer from Georgia.
“I’ll never forget that,” Corral recalls. “He said, ‘Hey, f — all that. Matt, you’re the quarterback. what you thought?’ That’s how I was put on the spot. ”
SEC football will prepare you for a lot of things. Not that. It was Corral who was being tested as a leader, as a man. Anything that came out of his mouth next would define him as a room filled with teammates and coaches.
“I’m like ‘I can’t just sit there. I have to say something,” Corral told CBS Sports.
So he told them about personal experiences that brought him into the loving arms of Oxford, Mississippi. It took a total of 5 minutes. It was his chance to show off his leadership skills, to reinforce the fact that a child from Cali, who had once committed to USC, could be the man of Archie Manning’s school.
With tensions high, the country reeling from Floyd’s murder and a team looking to him for the sequel, a white child from Southern California spoke up.
“I was put on the spot,” Corral said. “I just told them what I had in my heart. Everything clicked. They loved what I said, and I meant it.”
He basically said he would fight for them. It didn’t matter where they came from or what they did.
Corral certainly had the fighting part. This high school altercation with Tristan Gretzky – the son of hockey icon Wayne Gretzky – took place at Oaks Christian in Westlake Village, Calif., A “wealthy school” (according to Corral) where students “spent money. ‘money’ and would ‘never have to work a day in their life.’
TMZ clinging to history, which is never good.
“This kid, his dad, tried hard to fuck my life,” Corral said.
At this point, Corral was asked if he was sure he wanted all of this on file. He poured out his heart as he had done that day in front of the rebels.
“Eventually,” he concluded, “it’s going to come out.”
Attempts by CBS Sports to reach the Gretzkys for comment on this story were unsuccessful.
The unloading process has started. Even more eyes are on him this season. While Corral isn’t the SEC’s best quarterback before 2021, he’s the most accomplished after Trask and Mac Jones left Alabama. It was easy to be eclipsed by these last two last season, even when Corral was throwing for 3,337 yards and 29 touchdowns while leading the SEC’s most powerful offense.
The irony is obvious. We are witnessing the maturation of the coach and the player, the rise of two former Wild Things. Very discreetly, Lane Kiffin has become something close to consistency and grounding.
Since being fired from USC eight years ago, Kiffin has won two conference titles and 63% of his games. Rebounding work as an offensive coordinator in Alabama resulted in three SEC titles and a national championship. Corral just posted the third most accurate season of an SEC quarterback since 2011 (70.9%) despite games of five (LSU) and six interceptions (Arkansas).
“As long as Kiffin is there you have nothing to fear,” he said.
Corral remembers the day everything changed for him: April 9, 2020. The date is less important than what happened that day.
Lying on a sofa in his Oxford apartment, Corral began to cry. “Just sad,” he said.
The Matt Corral that produced these unsavory headlines, joined three different schools and was “in a depression” had to change.
“I don’t know why,” Corral said. “I’m fed up with feeling that way. I’m just fed up with making excuses. I’m fed up with having vices for my problems, like drinking. It messed me up. I don’t even drink. more.”
“I promised myself that I was going to be different,” he added. “I was always doing something for others. I wasn’t selfish, [but] it was finally time for me to be selfish and worry about myself. ”
Corral now says he didn’t go through that depression until his sophomore year of college. Corral’s parents convinced him to attend therapy sessions, as The Athletic reported in 2019. In itself, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. One of the most underrated aspects of modern varsity athletics is concerns about the mental health of players.
It’s also fair to say that Corral had a reputation. This fight with young Gretzky led to Corral’s parents removing him from Oaks Christian and registering him at Long Beach Poly, 57 miles away in terms of driving distance. In terms of separation for Corral, it was a million miles.
“They can sit down with mommy and daddy’s money and that’s it,” Corral said of Oaks Christian. “About the way they treated me and the way they looked at me, it rubbed me the wrong way.”
This was also communicated the day Corral was challenged by Reese.
“I told them where I was from. It didn’t matter,” Corral said. “I went to a school that cost $ 35,000 a year [in tuition]. And I went to Long Beach Poly, where it was completely different. ”
It was in Long Beach that Corral faced this fence again. Ultimately, the quarterback and his favorite receiver, Jalen Hall, found themselves on the same side.
“I always got along well with kids who had problems,” Corral said. “At the end of the day, they weren’t raised like an ordinary kid. They didn’t have the luxury of having two ordinary parents with two ordinary jobs and a house. That’s not how they are. arrived. ”
That’s not to say Hall was flustered, but it came that way. Hall graduated from Long Beach Poly in 2018 as a Four Star Prospect. In his first season, Oregon’s Mario Cristobal snatched him as part of the nation’s No. 13 recruiting class, according to 247Sports. Hall never managed to bring down the camp, leaving the team in the spring of 2018 for unspecified reasons. Then, in September of the same year, he was arrested in connection with a home invasion, burglary and kidnapping. In California, the kidnapping charge carried a life sentence.
Hall pleaded not guilty. The bond was set at $ 2.1 million.
“He’s one of my best guys forever, for sure,” Hall says of Corral now. “It started at Poly. It was great, especially the chemistry we had.”
For the past two and a half years, this chemistry existed over the phone. The bail was reduced and Hall was released in April, awaiting trial.
But in prison, access to the outside world was measured at 25 cents a minute. That’s the price it cost Hall to use the phone. In the 30 months he was incarcerated, Hall had little voice on the other end of the phone. Corral was one of the most frequent.
“It showed me a lot of things about his character,” Hall said, “who he is and the love we have for each other. We were talking about random stuff. How do you feel? The kind of things we wanted to do when I come home. ”
Corral did not have to make these calls. His own career was taking off. But that’s what they’re doing on the same side of the fence. Hall is represented by Darren Richie, a Los Angeles-based attorney with expertise in entertainment, criminal defense and personal injury law. He is allowed to speak to a reporter by phone only if an associate is present to filter questions.
Details on the status of his case are few, but Hall, now 21, hopes he can be in the field somewhere this fall. The kidnapping charge has been dropped, meaning a life sentence is ruled out.
Meanwhile, another life is just beginning as a new Corral wanders through the old streets of Oxford.
“You are going to feel right at home,” said the quarterback. “People are so welcoming.… When they find out you’re playing ball, they’re going to love you, brother.”