USC Quarterback & Newport Native: Matt Barkley

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Man On A Mission

USC Quarterback & Newport native Matt Barkley continues to progress on and off the field.- By Brett Callahan

Matt Barkley is not satisfied. The star quarterback for the USC Trojans knows that as an athlete, student, volunteer, family member and Christian, he can do more. Sure, he’s on his way to being the most touted quarterback to leave USC since Carson Palmer, has maintained over a “B” average at one of the most distinguished academic institutions in the country, and has joined his family and friends on several religious volunteer trips, but in his mind there’s always room for improvement.

“When it comes down to it, I don’t think you can ever be satisfied,” Matt says. “Just having that mentality in a lot of things in life can help push you towards the top.”

His viewpoint is one that few 21-year-olds, let alone those in the national spotlight, have the foresight and wisdom to put into practice. Then again, Matt’s idea of what the “top” is undoubtedly differs from most.

As USC quarterbacks coach Clay Helton says, “I can’t think of another guy that I’ve had the chance to coach that just honestly tries to be great in each area of life. He’s just a truly special person, and I hope to get to coach another one like him. He’s a rare commodity.”

Outside the Huddle

Even as Matt is forever linked first and foremost to the football field, his interests extend well beyond his time in a helmet and pads. He believes he owes this diversity in large part to his parents, Les and Beverly. The Barkleys moved Matt and his younger twin siblings, sister Lainy and brother Sam, from Irvine to the Newport Beach community as Matt was entering junior high, to be closer to relatives and friends. As early as Matt can remember, they encouraged the three children to be involved in as many activities, sports-related and otherwise, as possible.

“I think my parents did a great job of not sheltering me and giving me the chance to do a lot in life,” Matt says.

Matt grew up playing a number of sports: soccer, basketball, baseball and, of course, football, for the Newport-Mesa Seahawks and later the Mater Dei Monarchs. Throughout the years, he noticed a certain trend in each of the sports he played as he took on key positions like center midfielder, point guard, pitcher and quarterback.

“It’s funny, I’ve always wanted to be in control,” Matt says.

The sense of control that guides Matt’s life may explain why he feels so drawn to helping others whose own lives never had the chance to find the same direction. Les and Beverly have urged their kids to join them in Christian-based volunteer programs throughout the years, most notably a 2010 trip to Nigeria during their Christmas break.

“I think to whom much has been given, much is required,” Matt says in biblical reference. “Nigeria and other trips were just opportunities to give back and be selfless. They were times to forget about what was going on back home and really focus on other people and how to love, serve and give to them.”

Matt fully intends to continue his service to those in need as he reaches the next phase of life, but he also makes time to be a college kid both around campus and back home in Newport. When spring and summer come around, he takes to the beach for volleyball (his backup plan if football doesn’t work out), bodysurfing along local river jetties and The Wedge, and a chance to eat at a number of the many restaurant offerings along the Pacific Coast Highway near Corona del Mar.

“I love the beach community and how close it is to everything,” Matt says of Newport Beach. “It was a great place to grow up. There’s also a ton of USC alumni in Newport flying their flags everywhere, so I was kind of immersed in that culture as a kid.”

USC has since replaced Newport as Matt’s place of residence, but even there he is surrounded by family. Both Sam and Lainy are enrolled as freshmen, with Sam running as a hurdler for the Trojan track team and Lainy working in the football offices. The three Barkley children carry on the tradition that their father (a former water polo star), grandmother and aunt originally established as Trojan alums.

His teammates further serve as extended family members, but also aren’t afraid to bust his chops if the occasion calls for it. One such instance occurred during a segment on “The Dan Patrick Show,” in which Matt was asked to show off his musical prowess by playing an acoustic rendition of Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours.”

“Oh man, we gave him an unbelievably hard time about that,” says Khaled Holmes, Matt’s Bible study friend since the sixth grade and an offensive lineman for USC. “He started singing and when I heard the copy of that, I was devastated. It’s probably the first mistake he’s made in his life.”

Unfinished Business

At some point this fall, Matt will turn on the television on a Sunday and see former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck throwing passes to NFL receivers against NFL defenders to the applause of NFL fans. It’s a position Matt knows he could have been in this year had he opted to enter the draft. Instead, Matt announced that he’d stay for his senior season and try to accomplish the ultimate goal for a college football player, a national championship.

“I know the guys that we have on this team are a special group of players, and I didn’t want to miss on out on something big,” he explains.

The USC football program is coming off of a two-year bowl ban stemming from what the NCAA called a “lack of institutional control,” when players on several sports teams were cited for receiving improper benefits. The lift of the bowl ban now means that Matt and his teammates, who finished 10 – 2  last season, can finally compete for postseason play. The ban, coupled with a coaching change for Matt after his freshman season when Lane Kiffin replaced NFL-bound Pete Carroll, has brought some unforeseen adversity to Matt’s USC career.

“It was definitely tough going through that rough patch, but I had a great sense of peace throughout the whole thing,” Matt says. “I think ultimately all that stuff brought our team closer together, and made me stronger as a leader and as a man.”

The Trojans have all the makings to be one of the top teams in the nation heading into the 2012 season, and the lessons Matt is learning under Kiffin’s high-powered offense give the Heisman hopeful every opportunity to have one of the most storied seasons in college football history.

“It’s my passion and what I love to do,” Matt says of the sport. “The challenge of getting everyone to do the right thing is what’s so unique, and why it’s so exhilarating when it works.”

Working on Sundays

All signs point to Matt being one of the top, if not the top, players to shake commissioner Roger Goodell’s hand at the 2013 NFL Draft next April. As the NFL becomes more of a quarterback dependant league, Matt’s talent and leadership will be tested early and often. Having started every game from the time he stepped on both Mater Dei and USC’s campuses, the preparation and pro-style offenses he’s been challenged to efficiently run should give Matt the tools to succeed at the next level.

“He’s a tremendous decision maker, gets the ball out quickly and is extremely accurate,” Clay says. “The elite quarterbacks are guys that believe in making completions and taking the shots when they’re there. They say, ‘I’m going to be a highly efficient quarterback rather than just having a great arm.’ ”

Matt’s 69.1 completion percentage and 39/7 touchdown-to-interception ratio this past season are strong indicators that his skill set is NFL-ready.

“As much of a competitor and student of the game as Matt is,” Clay continues, “he’s going to fit right in to anybody’s system, learn it, and do a tremendous job for them.”

Matt looks to follow a number of high-profile USC quarterbacks to enter the NFL as early draft picks in recent years. Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez are all part of a Trojan lineage that continues with Matt’s eventual entrance into the league. While those before him have had varying degrees of ups and downs in their professional careers, Matt has taken the best piece of advice for himself through close observation and discussion.

“Just win,” he says of the expectations for his own career. “It’s hard to win in the NFL, and I just want to have a successful career and have fun while I’m doing it.”

As long as Matt continues to strive for success and life balance, it appears as if his future will continue to be one to watch. NBM

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