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Gilman midfielder Jake Matthai putting the finishing touches on a stellar career

The towering lacrosse player, all 6-feet-6 of him, looks surprisingly at home in Gilman's cozy art room, sitting comfortably with a palette in hand and canvas resting at eye level, straight ahead.

For an hour each school day — and other valuable minutes he can squeeze in when he's particularly inspired — Jake Matthai is in his own special world. The results are impressive: an oil painting of a sailboat in deep blue waters and another overlooking a city in France he visited are his two favorites.

The paintings are tranquil, subdued, idyllic.

Then Matthai lays down his brush, picks up his lacrosse stick and proceeds to barrel over an opponent on his way to ripping home another goal.

Though seemingly at odds, his two passions dovetail nicely, the senior midfielder said.

"It's so great because sports is go-go-go and art is a way for me to slow down and appreciate the moment," said Matthai, who also played football, soccer and basketball at Gilman. "There's a lot of wear and tear that comes with playing sports, and it's a real rejuvenating thing for me to sit down and work through a painting in a relaxed manner. I think that's really helped me balance things."

Matthai takes the same approach to playing sports as he does creating in the art room, enjoying overflow success in each of his endeavors. Along with getting all A's in his art classes, he has contributed to Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association championships in all four sports he has played.

While he considered himself "one of the guys working in the trenches" on the football, soccer and basketball teams, it's lacrosse that has had his heart since the day his father, Bruce, first threw pads on him when he was 6 years old.

After playing a steady role on last year's championship team, Matthai's duties have magnified this season as a captain and go-to scorer. Already set to play at North Carolina, following his father's footsteps, he was asked what he wants to get out of his final high school season.

"Being a senior and being here at Gilman the past 13 years, this is it..." he said, clearly caught up in the emotion.

While most high school players would go on to say they want to close out their careers with another championship, Matthai had a unique perspective as he continued: "I want nothing more than just the chance to continue to play lacrosse with my friends and enjoy it to the fullest. Whether or not that means winning a championship, it really doesn't matter. Sure I would love to, but I just want to have fun with my teammates and I want to play the best lacrosse I can. That's what I'm doing and I'm loving it. There's nothing more I can ask for."

For Matthai, it's always been more about the process than the end result.

He reflects on all the years of hard work and fun he has had with co-captains Gordie Koerber and Robby Haus. Shooting against each other, going 1-on-1 and just throwing the ball against the wall for hours filled up a good chunk of their childhoods. Now, he's proud of the fact that they are the leaders of the No. 4 Greyhounds, who are 9-3 and in position for another run at a championship.

When a back injury sidelined him from sports in the seventh grade, Matthai found painting as an alternative to stay challenged.He hasn't seen the world the same since. He has slowed down, taken a closer look at what's around him and often asks himself: "How would I paint that?"

He humbly admits to being amazed with some of the finer works he's produced, but that's not where the satisfaction comes from.

"I think the most important thing considering all the other things Jake's involved in is that he has a great understanding of the importance of process and methodology," his art teacher, Karl Connolly, said. "By applying the same type of rigor here in the art room, he yields really strong work. And I would imagine if you asked him what he enjoys more — the end product or the process — he would likely say the process."

Seeing people's reactions to his work makes Matthai eager to start on his next project. But it's the story behind the work and the time that was put into it that give him a greater sense of accomplishment.

"It's a wonderful feeling from start to finish," said Matthai, who is considering a career in architecture and plans to minor in studio art at North Carolina. "It's like walking off the field knowing you're going to be 'good' tired and knowing that you put 100 percent in and, win or lose, you have a sense of warmth and good feeling about your effort."

Connolly says if you line up all the pieces Matthai has done over the years, you would have no trouble placing them in chronological order and recognizing the steady progress.

The same could be said of Matthai's development on the lacrosse field. He has always been a head taller than the other players, and during his recreation league days, he could just put his head down and run past those unwilling to get in his way. But there's nobody backing down anymore, so he's had to improvise his game.

He mixes his size and power with all the speed and shiftiness he can muster to get the most of his abilities. In 12 games, Matthias has 17 goals and 10 assists, and he always has to be accounted for.

"He's big, he's strong and he can take the alley and really rip it, so you just have to be prepared for him all the time and limit his shots as best you can," Calvert Hall coach Bryan Kelly said.

What Gilman coach Brooks Matthews asks of his seniors every year is to be stewards of what past classes have built while adding their own individual stamp to the program. It's something Matthai has certainly helped do.

"Jake is obviously blessed with natural athletic ability," Matthews said, "but his effort and work ethic are just as important because he pushes himself to get the most of his talent regardless of the objective. He's not only a great player for us, he's a great leader who brings great character. He leads with his heart, and everyone knows his heart is in the right place."

glenn.graham@baltsun.com

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