Trojan football fans had to anxiously wait until Matt Barkley’s press conference at 1 p.m. on Thursday to learn that the junior quarterback would return for his senior season, forgoing the opportunity to enter the NFL draft.
USC football coach Lane Kiffin discovered Barkley’s fate a day earlier, but only after enduring a painfully long wait himself.
At 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Kiffin received a call from Barkley asking that Kiffin and his wife, Layla, drive to Newport Beach to meet with Barkley’s family in their home that evening.
“[Barkley] said, ‘Coach can you come down. I am having information overload. There is too much stuff coming at me,’” Kiffin said. “At that point, I was trying to figure out what that really meant.”
On the drive south from USC, Kiffin tried to distract himself by listening to sports talk radio and calling recruiting prospects, but the topic of conversation inevitably returned to Barkley’s forthcoming decision.
“I kept asking my wife what she thought, going over the things that [Barkley] had told me,” Kiffin said.
When Kiffin pulled up to Barkley’s house, he noticed that there were not a lot of cars in the driveway.
“I did not think that was a good sign,” Kiffin said. “I thought his grandparents and girlfriend would be there if it was a yes. So then I thought it was not going to be a yes.”
Barkley invited Kiffin into the house, and after five minutes of small talk, took Kiffin over to the family Christmas tree, which was filled with ornaments that Barkley and his two younger siblings had made over the years.
Barkley showed Kiffin the newest ornament, which featured a picture of Barkley and Kiffin celebrating after the 42-17 victory over Colorado in which Barkley threw for a school-record six touchdowns.
Kiffin analyzed the ornament and soon realized that on the back were the words “One more year. To memories next year.”
“I was very relieved,” Kiffin said. “My plays look a lot better when he is throwing the ball.”
Barkley enjoyed seeing Kiffin’s reaction.
“Lane was shocked and surprised,” Barkley said. “Layla even started crying she was so happy.”
Barkley’s public announcement came a day after junior safety T.J. McDonald declared that he would remain at USC for the 2012 season. Wide receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee return after catching 15 and 11 touchdowns, respectively, last season.
“With the talent coming back, we can do something special,” Barkley predicted.