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Pitt lineman Dan Matha to make WWE/NXT television debut

An ex-football player is one of pro wrestling’s up and comers

I always expected that if I was writing about a former Pitt football player joining the WWE, it would be former defensive lineman Ty Ezell. Ezell always had WWE aspirations if the NFL didn’t work out and to date, it hasn’t.

But another former Panthers player looks like he’s not only in the WWE, but potentially on a track to becoming a key guy.

Offensive lineman Dan Matha.

Matha, you might recall, was a pretty solid recruit that came to Pitt over Michigan State and West Virginia, among others. Unfortunately with shoulder injuries eating into his career, he never played at Pitt despite being here for three years as a tackle. Matha eventually went to nearby IUP and starred at the D-II level. He got a look in the NFL, but never worked out there.

Seemingly, he dropped off the face of the earth. But Matha was already planning his next career in pro wrestling.

Matha is set to make his television debut in WWE’s NXT circuit in less than two weeks after a promo was run for him during this past Wednesday’s show. He’s been in some NXT matches at events but none televised that I’m aware of.

All of that might sound like nothing if you’ve not heard of it, but NXT is the company’s premier minor league system, if you will. It’s not found on cable TV but despite being only on the WWE Network, has a massive following. In other words, Matha will have many eyes on him in a very short amount of time.

Wrestling fans don’t know what to make of him, either. Many wrestlers toil for years before getting recognition from the WWE. Apparently after a short stint in the Ohio Valley Wrestling training school, he landed a WWE tryout and was quickly signed last fall.

In pro wrestling, that sort of thing doesn’t happen all the time. Wrestlers can be on the independent circuits for years and years without drawing any attention at all, let alone being signed. The WWE does have a penchant for taking athletes from football and giving them a shot, but as a whole, Matha has shot up the ladder much faster than is the norm.

Pittsburgh is known for producing some WWE talent, as this article cites. And not on their list was Matt Bloom, who played football at Pitt in the 1990s. Bloom (aka Tensai, A-Train, etc.) was also 6’7” like Matha and an offensive tackle for the Panthers before going on to a long career in pro wrestling.

Physically, the dude is jacked. Here’s Matha in action lifting, um, a lot of weight quite a few times. We’ll see how much he’s learned in the short time he’s been on the wrestling circuit pretty soon.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Weekly Kickoff: Pitt has chance to rebound vs. Marshall

The Panthers will look to snap a two-game losing streak

Pitt has come close to knocking off two quality teams on the road but lost in the final minutes against both Oklahoma State and North Carolina. Instead of being 4-0, the Panthers find themselves at 2-2 and desperately in need of a win.

They’ll get that chance against the Marshall Thundering Herd this weekend.

Pitt faces Marshall in a night kickoff this weekend as the team gets back to its home field. Seemingly, this is what the Panthers need to get back on track.

No, Marshall isn’t necessarily a gimme but it’s obviously a game that Pitt should win.

The Thundering Herd looked incredibly impressive with a 62-0 win over Morgan State. But since then, they’ve struggled badly. First came a 65-38 blowout loss to Akron. This past weekend, Marshall was routed 59-28 against Louisville.

The big thing here to watch is the status of quarterback Chase Litton. Litton dropped six touchdown passes against Morgan State then added four more against Akron before suffering concussion symptoms. He wasn’t healthy enough to play against Louisville on Saturday and his availability will be something to watch.

Pitt fans will likely be scared by some of those passing numbers and, well, given the state of the secondary, they probably should be. Litton is yet another quarterback they’ll face with the ability to sling the ball all over the field and not only put up 722 passing yards in those first two games but has those ten passing touchdowns. If he’s able to play this weekend, that could hurt.

For Marshall’s sake, they better hope he does go. His replacement, Garet Morrell, didn’t fare nearly as well this weekend. Sure, he was facing Louisville. But Morrell really struggled to do much of anything despite two touchdown passes. On the day, he was 9-21 for only 59 yards and an interception. You have to figure that even Pitt’s suspect secondary should be able to rebound well if it’s Morrell in the game.

While Marshall’s passing game will depend on which quarterback is in there, the running game looks to be solid. It’s a by-committee approach there with four guys carrying the load. Keion Davis, Hyleck Foster, Tony Pittman, and Anthony Anderson have combined for 119 carries and 465 rushing yards.

Defensively, the Thundering Herd have struggled. They shut out Morgan State, but allowed a whopping 124 points to Akron and Louisville. Marshall has had problems against both the run and the pass, but probably struggled a little more in the passing game, allowing nearly 800 yards in the air in both of those games.

It will be interesting to see if Pitt tries to air it out a bit more this week. Nathan Peterman has certainly shown some limitations but facing an opponent that’s been pretty bad in pass defense might mean the Panthers try to pass a little bit more. I’m not expecting a 300-yard game or anything but Peterman could do a bit more this weekend.

The past two weeks have been disappointing. But playing good teams on the road is never easy. A 2-2 record at this point with that schedule, while frustrating given that Pitt had last week’s game won, is entirely reasonable for a program still on the rise. But there’s no doubt that the Panthers need to rebound on Saturday and cannot afford a loss going up against Marshall at home.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

MLB stars, athletes pay tribute to Jose Fernandez, dead at 24

Early Sunday, Miami Marlins star pitcher Jose Fernandez died at age 24 in a boating accident off Miami Beach. Fernandez is survived by his family, which includes his grandmother, his mother and his girlfriend, Carla Mendoza, who Fernandez recently revealed was pregnant with their child.

>> Marlins Pitcher Jose Fernandez has died

Fernandez's fun-loving and enthusiastic demeanor, both on and off of the field, left a lasting impression on not only the Miami sports community but also the sports world as a whole.

Several prominent South Florida sports figures and teams tweeted out their condolences to Fernandez’s family and friends.

>> PHOTOS: Remembering Jose Fernandez

The baseball community also took to social media to mourn the loss of a teammate and competitor that they had grown to respect during his impressive, yet all-too-short four-year MLB career.

>> WATCH: Jose Fernandez reunites with grandmother in heartwarming 2013 video

Fellow National League All-Star and Cuban Yoenis Cespedes paid tribute to Fernandez by taping a Mets jersey with Fernandez’s name and number on it in the Mets dugout. The team posted video of the tribute on Twitter.

>> Read more trending stories

WATCH: Jose Fernandez reunites with grandmother in heartwarming 2013 video

Grab the tissues.

In 2013, the Miami Marlins arranged for Jose Fernandez’s grandmother, Olga, to travel to the United States to see her grandson pitch in the major league for the first time in six years.

>> Watch the video here

During an interview, Fernandez talked about how much his grandmother meant to him while he was living in Cuba as a child. He showed off a tattoo he got in his mother and grandmother’s honor.

“My mom doesn’t know as much about baseball as my grandma. My grandma is a baseball freak,” he said. The interviewer than asked if he could send his grandmother a message, what he would say. “Everything that I do is for her. I am going to keep working hard and one day, hopefully, she is going to see me here.”

>> Marlins Pitcher Jose Fernandez has died

He was very frank when asked what she would say to him if she were there: “I don’t think she would be here.”

As he talked in front of the camera, his grandmother and mother walked into the room and completely blew Fernandez away.

>> PHOTOS: Remembering Jose Fernandez

The two embraced for some time. “Oh, my God,” he said.

“I wanted to show her everything I did during the season, because she couldn’t be with me,” he said. He also revealed that it was his grandmother who taught him how to catch a baseball.

>> Read more trending stories

Later, Olga witnessed her grandson with the Rookie of the Year award and saw him play baseball at Marlins Park. During the game, Fernandez joked that his grandmother would probably have some pointers for him after the game.

Fernandez died in the early hours of Sept. 25 after a boat he was riding crashed into rocks in Miami. He and the two other passengers died as a result of the crash.

Sports world pays tribute to Arnold Palmer, dead at 87

Arnold Palmer, one of the greatest golfers who ever lived, passed away at the age of 87 on Sunday night.

>> Golf legend Arnold Palmer dead at 87

>> PHOTOS: Remembering Arnold Palmer

>> PHOTOS: Notable deaths in 2016

>> More Arnold Palmer news

>> Read more trending stories

The sports world, stunned by his passing, expressed its sadness with heartfelt messages on social media. 

>> Click here or scroll down to see what people were saying

<iframe src="//storify.com/cmgnationalnews/sports-world-mourns-arnold-palmer-dead-at-87/embed?header=none&amp;border=false" width="100%" height="750" frameborder="no" allowtransparency="true"></iframe><script src="//storify.com/cmgnationalnews/sports-world-mourns-arnold-palmer-dead-at-87.js?header=none&amp;border=false"></script>[View the story "Sports world mourns Arnold Palmer, dead at 87" on Storify]

Photos: Remembering Arnold Palmer

Golf legend Arnold Palmer dead at 87

LSU fires Miles as football coach

LSU fired Les Miles as its head football coach Sunday, the school confirmed to the Baton Rouge Advocate.

Cam Cameron also was fired as the Tigers’ offensive coordinator. Defensive line coach Ed Orgeron will be introduced as interim coach on Monday, the school said.

>> Read more trending stories   

LSU, ranked No. 5 in the preseason Top 25, fell to 2-2 on Saturday night after an 18-13 loss at Auburn. It was the worst start for LSU since Miles took over as coach in 2005.

 “Decisions like this are never easy ones to make,” LSU athletic director Joe Alleva said in a statement. “Coach Miles has done a tremendous job here and he’s been a great ambassador for our University, which makes this even more difficult.”

Miles, who turns 63 in November, went 114-34 in 11 seasons at LSU and led the Tigers to the BCS national championship in 2007.

LSU (2-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) opened the season with a 16-14 loss to Wisconsin, the Tigers’ first defeat in a season opener since 2002. The Tigers beat Jacksonville State and Mississippi State before Saturday's loss at Auburn (2-2, 1-1). LSU hosts Missouri at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Tiger Stadium. 

Orgeron was head coach at Mississippi from 2005 to 2007. He also served as interim head coach in 2013 at Southern California after Lane Kiffin was fired during that season, going 6-2.

GOP Florida lawmaker criticized for politicized Jose Fernandez tweet

   

A Republican Florida lawmaker was criticized Sunday for politicizing the death of Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez.

Matt Gaetz, who represents District 4 in the Florida House of Representatives and is running for Congress, tweeted shortly after it was confirmed that the 24-year-old Fernandez had died in a boating wreck early Sunday off Miami Beach.

>> Read more trending stories   

“To all who will kneel during the anthem today — just remember how Jose Fernandez risked his life just for the chance to stand for it,” Gaetz tweeted Sunday morning,referring to the Cuban native’s efforts to reach the United States from the communist island country. The tweet referenced the trend of professional athletes — following the lead of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick — who kneel in protest during the national anthem. 

To all who will kneel during the anthem today - just remember how Jose Fernandez risked his life just for the chance to stand for it— Matt Gaetz (@mattgaetz) September 25, 2016<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Fernandez escaped Cuba in 2007 after serving jail time for three failed attempts to leave the country. On his fourth try, he jumped into the water and rescued his mother after she fell out of their boat.

Lorenzo Veloz, a spokesman with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said Fernandez was one of three men who died in the boating accident.

Twitter users reacted swiftly to Gaetz’s tweet, with sports commentator Keith Olbermann calling the candidate a “cheap exploitative humanoid scumbag.”

.@mattgaetz Delete your account, you cheap exploitative humanoid scumbag.— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) September 25, 2016<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Gaetz responded later to other posts, tweeting that “My point is that while America remains imperfect, so many do so much to enjoy our freedoms. Seems ungrateful to kneel. Just my opinion.”

He later tweeted that he wished “the national discussion was more productive on this stuff.”

In his first tweet after hearing the news of Fernandez’s death, Gaetz said he was “crushed” by the news.

I just saw the news on Jose Fernandez. As a Marlin fan, a Floridian and an admirer of the Cuban-American experience I am crushed.— Matt Gaetz (@mattgaetz) September 25, 2016<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Fernandez was finishing his best major league season, going 16-8 with a 2.86 ERA. He was an all-star for the second time.

He was set to start Monday's Marlins game against the Atlanta Braves.

Gaetz won the GOP primary for his district Aug. 30.

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