PASADENA WEEKLY -- Enrolling at San Francisco State College (now University) in 1954, Mathis intended to be an English and physical education teacher and set a school record on the high jump. Coaches with the Olympics came calling, and he seemed ready to pursue that opportunity fully when he suddenly was signed by a manager for his singing and she convinced Columbia Records to offer him a contract at the age of 19.
“I think if you ask most kids what they do, they have time to do everything because you have energy when you’re young,” Mathis says, when asked how he managed to excel at both sports and music while engaged in college. “I was also president of my student body. That was what I did, buoyed by the enthusiasm voice teachers and coaches showed on my behalf. They were excited for me to participate and that was the foundation for my learning, especially music. I was a very, very lucky person.”