LOS ANGELES (AP) — Matt Barkley can’t walk 50 yards on the Southern California campus without getting career advice.
The quarterback is trying to take a week off to relax and reflect on his remarkable junior season, even rising a bit later than his usual 4:45 a.m. for his daily weightlifting session, but everybody has an opinion about the decision looming in his near future.
“Usually it’s, ‘One more year,’ that’s what I hear,” Barkley said.
And he hears it from everybody. Students in Robert Scheer’s Communications 310 class passed around a petition demanding Barkley’s return, a stunt that made Barkley laugh while he showed it to people on his iPhone. He gets input from the oldest alumni to the youngest fans, including a kid named Julian who sent him a photo and a sternly worded letter.
“Dear: Matt Barkley. I want you to stay on the USC football team just one more season.”
Barkley is genuinely conflicted about his decision. He is tantalized by the fame and fortune of an NFL career, but his heart and head are still in the college game.
Although he rooted for Drew Bledsoe’s New England Patriots because of his grandparents’ Boston roots, Barkley is a college football guy right down to his childhood collection of USC jerseys. His specific childhood dreams didn’t really extend beyond leading the Trojans out of the Coliseum tunnel.
“I was all about USC growing up,” Barkley told The Associated Press during an interview outside Heritage Hall. “I just think there’s more to the college game, with the students and the alumni. I love everything about it. … I do feel loved here. This student body and this campus are really something special to me. The spirit here and everything about it, I love it. They really care.”
Although Lane Kiffin has been teasing Barkley about returning for his senior season since the day he took the job nearly two years ago, the USC coach says Barkley is more than ready for the NFL, figuring he would be a top-10 draft pick after every team evaluates his strong arm, impressive poise and leadership skills.
Barkley has demonstrated that leadership ever since the Trojans were leveled by hefty sanctions, emerging as the face of a program that has cycled through school presidents, athletic directors and coaching staffs since he arrived on campus.
“I know it sounds weird, but I look up to Matt Barkley,” Kiffin said. “Matt Barkley has been through a lot of adversity now. For a kid, 19 I believe, to go in front of (the media) when basically all his dreams about football were taken away — no bowl games, transfers sanctions, new president, new head coach, new athletic director — how many 39-year-olds could handle that, let alone 19-year-olds? He’s just unbelievable.”
Barkley embraced the leadership role, figuring he could learn skills that will help him in the NFL. But he also put together a spectacular junior season that left his mark throughout the Trojans’ record book.
He set a conference record with 39 touchdown passes, broke the school’s single-season completion percentage mark (69.1), threw a school-record six TD passes in a game twice — and did it all while leading the ninth-ranked Trojans (10-2, 7-2 Pac-12) to seven wins in their final eight games, finishing on top of the Pac-12 South standings and rising to their highest ranking since before the sanctions. Barkley finished with 3,528 yards passing, 308 completions — one shy of the school record — and just seven interceptions.
As a student of USC football history, Barkley believes his job wasn’t as tough as the work done by Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer, who led the Trojans back to elite status a decade ago under coach Pete Carroll.
“USC was at one of the brightest points in this program’s history when we came in, and then it goes downhill quickly,” he said. “We were part of one of the darkest periods of USC football. I think to be part of the team that brought it out, that helped resurrect USC football and turn it into a positive again, was definitely something I’ll cherish here.”
The Trojans’ 50-0 obliteration of UCLA last weekend certainly seemed to be an apt farewell. He left the game to a standing ovation in the final seconds, and he climbed onto a stepladder afterward to direct the marching band.
A spot among the Heisman Trophy finalists would be another fitting cap to the year, and Barkley is eager to find out Monday whether he’s headed to New York. He isn’t interested in promoting himself for the trip, instead directing that spotlight to the USC offense’s phenomenal finish to the year — scoring at least 30 points apiece in its final 10 games, including 226 points in the final five.
“My team has helped me get to where I am, and the way we’ve played definitely deserves recognition,” Barkley said. “The way we’re playing right now, I think we could play anyone in the country. We could line up wherever it is and go head-to-head with anyone.”
Barkley filed for an evaluation from the NFL’s draft advisory board this week, a standard move for juniors considering the NFL jump. He’ll consult with everyone from agents to his former high school coaches, with maybe even a call to Carroll in Seattle, although “I don’t know if that’s legal or not.”
Until then, he’s trying to enjoy school, where he’s still a few classes short of his degree. His younger brother and sister enrolled at USC this year, and he relishes the chance to play big brother at lunch or his apartment.
And if he decides to leave in the next few weeks, Barkley won’t feel any regret about goals he couldn’t reach.
“Those were things that were outside of our control,” he said. “I really believe we made the best of it. Maybe some goals were left unmet, national championships and all the stuff I grew up watching USC football as, but not something that I’ll latch onto and hold as a regret, or something I’ll feel bad about, because I think we made the most of our situation.”
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.