Barkley embodies Trojan spirit
If youâre a parent on the USC campus this weekend, junior quarterback Matt Barkley is the kind of guy youâd love your daughter to date or your son to be close friends with.
Heâs genial, mature beyond his years, has a million-dollar right arm and a Hallmark smile to go along with it. More importantly, Barkley possesses a rare blend of heart and character that gets lost in the negativity that envelops todayâs world of college athletics.
âThis position is as good as it gets in college football,â Barkley said. âPlaying at a high school where two former Heisman Trophy winners [John Huarte and Matt Leinart] had gone previously, I was used to this kind of attention. But I knew that the spotlight would only get magnified playing the position at USC. But who wouldnât want this? Itâs a dream.â
Ordinarily, youâd expect the face of a universityâs athletic program to be overwhelmed the week before the biggest game of his season. Not Barkley.
Instead, the blond, blue-eyed quarterback from Orange County has been roaming throughout Heritage Hall this week looking for anyone he can find to serenade with his acoustic versions of the Doobie Brothers and Jason Mraz.
For most college students, a life filled with more interviews and film sessions than midterms would be a burden, but for Barkley, itâs a blessing.
âIâm a third-year starter who has been in almost every situation you could ask for,â Barkley said. âSo, there is nothing that gets me jittery. I have always been a calm person off the field, and that certainly translates between the white lines.â
Tomorrowâs opponent, No. 4 Stanford, might be the most dynamic team on both sides of the football â 48.6 points per game to 12.6 points allowed per game â the junior has faced, but during his time at USC, Barkley doesnât bat an eye.
âIâve been forced to handle more circumstances than the average college quarterback because of the media in Los Angeles, the sanctions and the limelight that comes with lining up under center at this university,â Barkley said. âEvery game for us is a bowl game, and this is just one opportunity of 12. Itâs going to be a big atmosphere, with all of the hype, but itâs also a chance for us to go in as underdogs, with no pressure at all, and shock the world.â
With this weekâs matchup pitting Barkley against the Cardinalâs consensus NFL No. 1 overall pick, quarterback Andrew Luck, the natural inclination is to drudge up old questions of whether Barkley will join the NFL draft class of 2012.
But for a guy who would rather spend his winter break working with underprivileged kids and prisoners in Nigeria â as Barkley did last year â than on the sun-soaked, 70-degree beaches of Southern California, the future can wait. Heâs living in the moment and loving every minute of it.
âThis experience has been everything and more,â Barkley said. âRegardless of whatâs happened in the past, this has all been a dream come true for me. Being able to wear cardinal and gold, to play for this university, itâs something thatâs hard to describe. I couldnât have asked for a better college experience. Iâve loved every second of it.â
Though the charismatic 21-year-old has done virtually everything the program could ask of him as its unofficial poster child, the lasting question regarding Barkleyâs tenure at USC will come down to what he does on the grass of the Coliseum. Itâs a question that through seven games (6-1 record with 2,006 yards passing, 19 touchdowns and four interceptions) Barkley has certainly worked toward answering.
âThis year I feel completely comfortable with the offense and taking control of the game,â said Barkley, who broke a single-game school record against Arizona with 468 passing yards. âIâm not really looking for video game numbers, as long as we are winning in clean fashion. That means dedicating myself to the game when no one else is watching, constantly looking for deficiencies in my game, whether itâs how Iâm holding the football, footwork or my grasp of the overall offensive scheme.â
Regardless of the season statistics, bowl victories and revenue dollars he generates, when all is said and done â whether thatâs in two months or in 14 â Barkleyâs name and impact will resonate at the university long after he leaves.
He might be closer to becoming a Davey OâBrien Award finalist than a Heisman Trophy winner. He might take part in more Emerald Bowl celebrations than Rose Parades. He might stay three years instead of four.
But none of that will matter.
Because, during one of the darkest hours in the athletic programâs history, it was Barkley, as much with his poise as his performance, who let the USC faithful realize that this time would only be temporary.
In the big picture, that will be worth much more than a game-winning touchdown pass or a mouth full of roses.
âAt the end of the day, I hope people just remember my character, those attributes of a Trojan that have made me who I am today,â Barkley said. âThat I love this school, love playing football, love walking through campus, love the people here. This is a truly special place and Iâm definitely ready for what lies ahead because of it.â