My Carolina Experience: Jake Matthai
By Zoya Johnson, Go.Heels.com
Standing six feet, six inches tall, it's no surprise that rising junior Jake Matthai, a member of Carolina's men's lacrosse team, is a beast on the field.
The Baltimore native has been one of Carolina's most improved and dependable players the past two seasons and came to Carolina after being named The Baltimore Messenger's Lacrosse Player of the Year in his senior year at Gilman School. A talented, multi-sport athlete as a prepster, Matthai is the latest in a long line of Gilman products to play on Carolina's lacrosse squad.
What may come as a surprise is the description of the midfielder as a "Gentle Giant" off the field.
The description matches up when describing Jake's hobbies and talents outside of the sport. It turns out that not only is Jake a rising star on the field but a gifted artist and chef as well.
An art major at UNC, Matthai says, "I have developed a true love for recreating images with my own style and technique. Furthermore, I take great pleasure in having a discussion about other pieces of work, for art is essentially an infinite conversation between man and his creations. I study art because I enjoy creating something from nothing, but I also love the progression and becoming better with every piece that I make."
Matthai discovered his passion for art when he started taking lessons after school in the seventh grade. Although lacrosse is what brought Jake to Carolina, art has become a passion he feels fortunate to be able to study in conjunction with his dedication to his sport and his other academic pursuits.
"I came here through lacrosse as I was recruited to play for the university. I knew it was the place for me once I'd talked to coach Joe Breschi and walked through the campus. Thankfully, lacrosse has opened doors for me in my life and has given me the chance to study art here at Chapel Hill."
As far as his experience on campus, Matthai is constantly embracing every opportunity to grow in life - as a teammate, friend and student.
"Carolina has helped me grow as a person, predominantly on account of the Division I lacrosse experience while handling the challenges of being a student-athlete. My end goals are to get a great education and to win a national championship. But I have goals to be the best teammate I can possibly be and also to make the most out of my four years here."
Attaining the overall experience he wants from college is something Jake is already bringing to fruition as he prepares for his summer studying art abroad in Italy with the Studio Art Centers International Florence.
Matthai discovered the opportunity at the University's annual study abroad fair. He left the event with several promising opportunities but it was the SACI program that peaked his interest with its hands on and immersive courses that will give Jake a chance to study all over Italy. After taking a second look at the pamphlet and talking with several students who spoke highly of their experience with SACI, Jake was sold.
"I hope to learn about the Florentine culture as much as I wish to improve my drawing and painting skills. My favorite medium to create with is oil paint. It has a larger viscosity than any other paints that I know of, making the paint fun to mix, while simultaneously forcing me to slow down the process when mixing.
"Furthermore, the tones of oil paint are more earthy and tend to give the viewer a more realistic image to look at. The oil paint also takes a long time to dry which helps me to elongate my painting process and not rush the project. I have enjoyed painting in watercolor, ink wash, and acrylic, but nothing speaks more to me as an artist than oil paint. "
Now halfway through his Carolina career, Jake had some words of advice for incoming freshmen. They are simple but they ring true.
"My words of advice to incoming freshmen would be to do what makes you happy," says Matthai, a player who has been a part of one of college lacrosse's best short-stick defensive midfield units the past two campaigns. "College is a great time to experiment with different interests, so don't be afraid to try new things, take unique courses, and find time for fun in the midst of work.
"When I leave UNC, I will take with me the lessons learned from being on a team with 40 plus brothers. I will also take with me an exceptional education that I am lucky to have. In regards to art, I will have a diverse set of skills in different genres of artistic practice. Whether that be in painting, drawing, sculpture or digital media, I will have a basic knowledge of all."
Although he has no clear cut professional goals at this point, Matthai's hope is to use his double major in studio art and communications to open doors that allow him to connect with people and travel the world. He also has a dream of someday owning his own farm and becoming involved in sustainable agriculture.
At the moment, Jake's main focus is that of being a good teammate and student. While he continues to progress in his studies and as an athlete, he knows that those outside of the University's bubble are likely to be quick to judge no matter what.
"There are great universities out there with tremendous academic opportunities, however Carolina is a special place with a wonderful balance of great weather, diverse people, and a fun social scene. What happens at a University under the spotlight (like UNC) is that you are quick to be praised and quick to be blamed."
"I'm proud to be a Tar Heel," concludes Matthai, a member of Carolina's 2013 ACC championship team, the first to win that title in 17 years for UNC in lacrosse.After his summertime studies in Italy, Matthai is determined to return to the lacrosse field this fall, dedicated to lift his teammates to a higher level. The son of a UNC lacrosse alumnus, Bruce Matthai, the younger family member still has much to contribute to his alma mater in many respects.