USC junior quarterback Matt Barkley will no doubt have plenty of people in his ear over the next several weeks until the deadline to declare for the 2012 NFL draft comes in early January.
Go for the money, they’ll say. Stay for the pride. Go to fulfill your dream of playing at the highest level. Stay to fulfill your dream of winning a Heisman.
He’s heard it all before, and he’s thought about it all too. Ultimately, only he can decide what is best for him and those close to him.
And if USC coach Lane Kiffin, Athletic Director Pat Haden, his teammates, his coaches, his friends and his fans are close to him, Barkley will realize that not only should he stay but that it’s his burden to come back for a fourth year.
The USC football program currently rests in a precarious position, and whether it falls onto the side of perennial championship contention or the side of middling success for the next few years probably largely depends on what is likely one of the most important decisions Barkley has ever made in his entire life.
Barkley owes it to the program to finish the job of restoring it to greatness for all USC has done to foster Barkley’s growth.
One might wonder why an unpaid athlete that generates millions of dollars for the university without appreciable financial return owes anything to that university. One might wonder why this same athlete would owe anything to a football program that was not allowed to play for a national championship (and, effectively, a Heisman trophy or even a Rose Bowl title).
But how often does a true freshman quarterback have the chance to start for a team ranked in the top-five in the preseason polls? How many quarterbacks have the kind of recruiting talent behind them to bring in two of the nation’s best receivers (sophomore Robert Woods and freshman Marqise Lee) in consecutive years sullied by sanctions — with another pair of receiver recruits from those two years (redshirt freshman Kyle Prater and freshman George Farmer) still awaiting playing time?
Barkley committed to a university that carries the prestige and credibility necessary to provide all of that for him. Barkley attends a university with enough national recognition stowed away from its decade of immense success that it could get him the face time he needed to become the prospect he is today.
Simply put, USC has enabled Barkley’s development in a way that almost no other program could hope to. Barkley realized his uniquely favorable position when he heard about the sanctions, and that’s why he decided to stay. That’s why he made an investment to a hopeless program.
He saw what he could do for himself and the team. He saw the long-term hope for his career, and he saw the long-term hope for the program.
When he envisioned that hope for the team about a year-and-a-half ago, you can bet he saw himself as a part of it. The distractions that have arisen since then would be hard to ignore for anyone, much less a wide-eyed 20-year-old on the brink of emerging to the elite level.
No one could blame Barkley for succumbing to those distractions. Some might sigh, pout or even have some choice words for Barkley if they ever ran into him, but if they’d think about putting themselves in his position, they’d be able to relate.
Kiffin acted quickly in his press conference after the season finale against UCLA to curb expectations for Barkley’s return, suggesting it would take the resolve and will of a “special Trojan” for Barkley to return for his senior season.
It’s not likely Kiffin is as pessimistic about the situation in private, and he probably hasn’t made his final stand in attempting to persuade Barkley himself.
But let’s assume Kiffin is right. Let’s assume Barkley would have to go above and beyond and do something special for the football program.
If Barkley realized just how unique his situation at USC has been … If he took note of each and every decision USC made over the last three seasons to make things great for him … If he understood just how talented he already is, he’d be back at practice in the spring. And it would probably be difficult to grasp why it was even a hard decision to make in the first place.
The burden is on Barkley to make sure everything USC has done for him doesn’t go unanswered. And all it takes is a year.
“Suicide Blitz” ran Thursdays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or email Danny at firstname.lastname@example.org.