It is not enough for USC quarterback Matt Barkley to be the Heisman Trophy frontrunner and potential No. 1 NFL draft pick. At the same time he gets hyped for a record-setting senior season, he’s also looking to have a lot of fun.
When Barkley decided to return to USC he did not merely call coach Lane Kiffin. He orchestrated a dramatic moment, asking Kiffin to drive to his house just before Christmas.
After Kiffin walked in the house, Barkley handed him a handmade cardboard ornament that showed the pair embracing after the USC-Colorado game, where the star quarterback set the Trojans’ single-game record for touchdown passes. A caption read, “2011 Great Memories.”
The ornament barely impressed a cynical Kiffin, who said, “Cool ornament, Matt.”
But Barkley, Lindy’s Offensive Player of the Year, told Kiffin to turn it over and read another caption: “One more year. To the memories next year.”
“I tried to be all sad,” Barkley said of the way he was trying to fool Kiffin. “But I can’t hold a straight face.”
Or as Kiffin says, “Matt can’t lie.”
Barkley is one of the most driven and competitive athletes to play for USC in the past 15 years, but that is complemented by a boyish nature that does anything for a smile.
“I really did want him to stay,” said his sister, Lainy, who also attends USC. “It’s so fun being on campus with him.”
Barkley’s honesty and good nature (and his strong arm) are reasons USC feels so positive about its quest for a national title. And even he will not deny it.
“Looking at the team we have, it’s definitely something special,” Barkley said. “We’re on the ride.”
That is the type of comment that makes Kiffin wince because he likes to say, “You won’t hear us talking about a national championship.”
Barkley’s teammates, however, love his directness.
“Matt always kept us energized because he is positive,” former USC tailback Marc Tyler said. “He knew how to motivate us and willed us to win during games last season.”
Being a motivator is a natural talent for Barkley, who always finds ways to keep things fresh and interesting.
Barkley took 15 of his teammates on a trip to Haiti to help build homes, a trip that illustrated Barkley’s penchant for finding ways to make his teammates bond. It is a stark contrast to the last quarterback with this much hype at USC (Matt Leinart), who avoided much interaction with his teammates during his senior year.
“I’ve never been out of the country,” USC defensive end Devon Kennard said. “I think it was a great idea by Matt.”
It is not an unusual trip for Barkley. After his sophomore year, with no bowl game because of NCAA sanctions, he went to Nigeria with his family to help the needy.
Going to Haiti appealed to Barkley more than being an NFL rookie. He knew he was going to be a top 10 draft choice but said, “I was meant to be at USC.”
By the end of this season, Barkley appears to be meant to be USC’s leader in career passing and total offense. He also will be the school’s first three-time captain.
“He’s got a chance to blow all these school records out of the water,” Kiffin said.
USC will open its new $100-million football center this year named after legendary coach John McKay, but the reverence for Barkley already led to another possible title.
“The Matt Barkley Center sounds better,” USC athletic director Pat Haden joked.
Barkley would turn down that offer. He might enjoy being in the spotlight, but dislikes over-the-top presentations. When he announced his return to USC, he was surprised the school arranged for the school band, song girls and the Heisman trophies flanking him inside Heritage Hall.
“That’s not me,” Barkley said. “That’s not what I’m about. I just didn’t want that image of myself. Hopefully, we’ll add another (Heisman Trophy) here later, but as of now, we have some work to do first.”
What Barkley wants is to win and go to a bowl game, preferably the BCS title game. He endured the Trojans’ two-year bowl ban and wants his senior year to make up for NCAA sanctions.
“We’ve waited a long time and it’s been frustrating sometimes not going to a bowl, but we never let it define us,” Barkley said. “We can make this year worth remembering and we’ve got a team to do it. I can’t wait.”
|RB||Marcus Lattimore||6-0||218||Jr.||South Carolina|
|TE||Tyler Eifert||6-6||251||Sr.||Notre Dame|
|OL||Luke Joeckel||6-6||310||Jr.||Texas A&M|
|WR||Marquess Wilson||6-4||183||Jr.||Washington State|
|OL||Omoregie Uzzi||6-3||300||Sr.||Georgia Tech|
|PK||Dustin Hopkins||6-2||190||Sr.||Florida State|