Plenty of adjectives describe USC junior quarterback Matt Barkley.
Following a season in which he threw for 3,528 yards, along with 39 touchdown passes, the third-year signal caller has received his fair share of praise over the last month.
But on Thursday, as Barkley announced he would return to school for his senior season – forgoing the chance to declare for the NFL draft, USC coach Lane Kiffin, perhaps, took it a step further.
“I believe he is the perfect Trojan: Matty Trojan,” Kiffin said. “The perfect example of a student-athlete.”
On the surface, it is easy to dub Kiffin’s “perfect” label merely a hyperbole. After all, USC boasts six Heisman Trophy winners and a litany of All-Americans and NFL draft picks. It’s a rather impressive list. Within the last nine years, three players alone have won the Heisman. And it’s especially lofty praise for Barkley, who has yet to deliver any postseason hardware to the Heritage Hall lobby – outside of an Emerald Bowl trophy in 2009.
Despite a résumé that as of now doesn’t measure up to past signal callers such as Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer, it’s more than a fair assertion.
Barkley had the chance to turn pro. It would have been a safe choice. He would have likely been a first-round pick, possibly even a top-10 selection. He would’ve inked a multi-million dollar contract, too. But come September 2012, he’ll be back in the cardinal and gold, carrying that trademarked Southern California smile.
“I know in my heart I have not finished my journey as a Trojan football player,” Barkley said Thursday.
The signal caller’s return likely means USC will open the season in the top-five with the chance of earning what would be the program’s 12th national championship. The Trojans will have 19 starters back after finishing the year 10-2 and ranked No. 5 in the Associated Press top-25 poll.
Next season could very well cement a legacy for Barkley that would be nearly impossible to match. Remember, 18 months earlier, he stood in that same Heritage Hall lobby as a wide-eyed 19-year-old sophomore after USC had received word of NCAA-levied sanctions – including a two-year postseason ban. Carrying the weight of a program, he was poised, answering questions with a touch of maturity not seen in many his age.
Barkley committed to USC in January 2008, as the Trojans were coming off the heels of back-to-back Rose Bowl victories under then-coach Pete Carroll.
But Carroll left during Barkley’s sophomore season, the Trojans were put on probation and, well, you know the rest of story.
Being dubbed the “perfect Trojan” is a lofty label. But it underscores a certain point: No player will be more meaningful for USC fans than Barkley.
And, yes, it’s because of the sanctions.
The Committee on Infractions punished USC after one player — Reggie Bush — accepted thousands of dollars worth of extra benefits in 2004 and 2005.
But Barkley stuck with USC despite the circumstances, and though it might have been in his best interest to do as much, it’s important nonetheless.
He has been the face of the program amid its most trying days. He has been calm, collected.
Now, he has the chance to finish his college career on a high note.
“This 2012 team has some serious unfinished business to attend to and I plan to play a part in it,” Barkley said about the Trojans’ prospects for next season.
There are a number of things that must play out over the course of the next 12 months, sure, but Kiffin’s bold declaration isn’t all that far off.