“When I first got here, he lined up in the slot and started running around and I said, ‘Hey, this guy’s quick, he’s got good hands …,’?” new CCU offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude said. “It doesn’t take him long to understand the things that we ask him to do. You can put a lot on his plate, and he just started making plays. And then it’s not hard to see once he catches it and he can slip a couple guys and all of a sudden he’s turning those short throws into long ones that it would be smart to just get him the ball and see what he can do with it.”
Mastromatteo followed with an impressive spring game, a steady climb up the depth chart while taking advantage of some roster shuffling and as the Chants continue their preseason workouts in preparation of their Sept. 1 season opener, well, it looks like the versatile receiver with the modest frame and long name might just have a prominent place in the team’s offensive game-planning this fall.
And as invariably happens these days with diminutive possession receivers, the comparison to a certain New England Patriots star has already been thrown out there a time or two.
“I think for our offense, he’s a classic slot receiver,” said Patenaude, who has brought with him from Georgetown a multiple-look up-tempo offense with elements of the spread. “He’s very smart, understands the system really well and is really beginning to understand how to run routes off of people. It’s kind of like that Wes Welker type of guy. You know, he’s pretty tough for a little guy, and really the biggest thing is once you get him the ball in the open field he’s really slick. He’s tough to tackle.”
Mastromatteo, who was named to the preseason All-Big South Conference team as a punt returner, was competing with senior Akeem Wesley in the spring at that slot position, but Wesley broke a bone in his wrist during the spring game and has since moved to the defensive side as a result. That’s allowed Mastromatteo to see a lot of work with the first-teamers this month, and as Patenaude said, “he’s really made the best” of those opportunities.
Speaking before practice earlier this week, Patenaude was listing off the variety of ways he’s envisioned Mastromatteo touching the football this season, from speed sweeps to bubble screens to any way he can think to get him the ball in space and let him take it from there.
“He presents some matchup problems if teams want to play some man or that type of thing,” Patenaude said. “He’s slick enough to catch one underneath, slip the [defender] and turn a five-yard throw into a 20-yard gain. But he’s also fast enough to go by you. He’s kind of like the prototypical guy that we would have in the slot in this offense.”
Of course, no one is more excited to hear that than Mastromatteo, who played receiver his last two years in high school before finding his college football niche – at least to this point – as a sure-handed return man unafraid to catch a punt in traffic and see what he can do with it. He holds the program and conference record for career punt returns (47) while also ranking as Coastal’s all-time leader with 379 punt return yards and is expected to continue his special teams duties despite his projected expanded role.
“I’m definitely excited,” he said. “I like doing punt and kick returns too, but, I don’t really know how to word it, it’s kind of separate from the football team. I see football as offense and defense. I know there’s three parts to the game, but it feels good to get back at receiver.”
Realizing that he might have a new weapon at his disposal, senior quarterback Aramis Hillary said he and Mastromatteo got together during the summer talking football and working together in 7-on-7 and individual drills.
“We spent a lot of time this summer together, and I think that’s going to help us out,” Hillary said.
Time will tell, but the buzz has already started spreading. Some of the Chants’ devoted followers and message board posters have taken to calling the receiver “The Maestro” in anticipation of what could be a breakout season for the junior if all goes as planned.
Told of this, Mastromatteo chuckles.
“I like that. It’s better than Nico,” he said.
Nicknames aside, though, after two years left to make his mark during his limited special teams opportunities, Mastromatteo is just happy to be called a receiver again.