Young Barkley takes leadership role with Trojans
Matt Barkley is grateful to see new coach Lane Kiffin and his
assistants on the field at Southern California this week.
The sophomore quarterback and senior Mitch Mustain were getting
tired of running practices all by themselves.
”There’s a lot more organization now,” Barkley said. ”In the
summer, it’s me and Mitch telling everybody what to do.”
Barkley and his backup took more than the usual leadership roles
this year while the Trojans’ NCAA woes shook the program. Although
the Trojans have two bowl-free seasons ahead of them due to those
crippling sanctions, Barkley has been a steady voice of optimism
and maturity – and he still won’t turn 20 until next month.
Barkley said he never considered leaving USC. Instead, he urged
his teammates to stick around with phone calls and cajoling. And
during voluntary workouts this summer, Barkley and Mustain put
their teammates through workouts with a constant urgency to keep
the Trojans near the top despite the sanctions that have reduced
”We’re all dedicated to this school, to this team and to
getting our educations from USC,” Barkley said. ”That USC degree
is something that everybody on this team should want. Even if the
appeal doesn’t (work) and we can’t get a bowl game next year, that
degree is something we’ll have for the rest of our lives.”
Barkley’s steady presence injects hope into the Trojans, even if
his freshman season wasn’t exactly a stunner. After moving up from
Newport Beach and immediately becoming Pete Carroll’s starter as a
freshman, Barkley struggled for long stretches of the Trojans’ 9-4
campaign, throwing 15 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions.
Barkley dedicated himself to improvement in the offseason,
losing 10 pounds mostly by improving his cardiovascular
conditioning. The quarterback also consciously worked on becoming a
leader for the Trojans, both in the locker room and in the
Barkley represented USC at the Pac-10 media day last week,
answering countless questions about the sanctions’ impact on the
Trojans’ morale and motivation. He expressed regret at the notion
of missing bowl games and losing the chance to play for the BCS
title for the next two years, but looked forward to the possibility
of getting back in the race in 2012.
”So you’re announcing that you’re staying for your senior year,
so that you’ll be able to do that?” Kiffin said with a smirk.
”Yeah, we’ll see,” Barkley replied. ”Hopefully.”
USC’s reputation has taken a beating in the past few years,
reducing a tradition of seven straight Pac-10 titles and two
national championships into an asterisk-laden chapter of the media
guide. While new school president Max Nikias works to repair that
reputation under squeaky-clean new athletic director Pat Haden,
Barkley knows he can make an important contribution by becoming a
spokesman for his team.
”I knew that would be one of my goals for this season,”
Barkley said. ”I looked up to Matt Leinart as a kid, and I watched
how he handled the media and handled himself. That’s part of your
job as a quarterback, and I want to do it.”
During the first two days of training camp workouts, Barkley
isn’t neglecting his primary job.
He’s working on improving the chemistry he started building last
season with receivers Ronald Johnson, Brice Butler and David
Ausberry. He’s also trying out the USC offense’s new toys: freshmen
Robert Woods, Markeith Ambles and Kyle Prater, who make up one of
the nation’s most formidable groups of young receivers.
Barkley went through the Trojans’ first practice without
throwing an interception, and his extra mobility already is
obvious, even if the offense favored by Kiffin and new coordinator
Kennedy Pola won’t require him to do much scrambling.
”He looks amazing out here,” Johnson said. ”I think we’re
going to have a bigger year offensively than a lot of people are
ready for. Matt is a leader already for this offense, and his
talent is helping everybody.”
If Barkley lives up to his considerable potential, the Trojans
could have a chance at their stated goal: a 13-0 season and a shot
at the top spot in the AP poll.
Barkley also knows the Trojans’ season will end at the Rose Bowl
– but on Dec. 4 against UCLA, not against some overmatched Big Ten
opponent as in years past. Even that disappointment looks like an
opportunity to Barkley: While the rest of college football’s top
teams prepare for bowl games during the winter academic break,
Barkley thinks he might head out on a mission trip with his church
”In this game, you don’t really get a lot of time like that,”
Barkley said. ”I want to make the best of a bad situation.”