Thursday, December 22, 2011

Matt Barkley Knows Staying in School Is Cool for USC

Yet, even as we grow attach to Matt Barkley – chanting, simply pleading for him to return next season as a senior – we now realize that he’s not a mercenary but feels there is unfinished business. The prestigious football institution is widely appreciated and nurtures the welfare of pedigree, remarkable dynasties, idealism and great pride at USC that has a strong influence on many student-athletes.

Such was Barkley, a three-year starting quarterback and team captain who led USC to a 10-2 record this season. It’s the beginning to a new tale — more precisely, as Barkley announced Thursday that he will return for a final college season. It began, like any other nerve-racking announcement, with a brief news conference and then he made the announcement standing at the podium in front of a Christmas tree surrounded by six Heisman trophies.

The swarms of reporters packed Heritage Hall, and when he conveyed that he will forgo entering the NFL draft and return for his senior season, he was cheered by spectators and then serenaded by the school band. He’s like the god of the city – a humbled icon in a town that canonize college football, where the folks are deprived of a pro football franchise.

And when he announced that he’ll come back next season – and thus favorites to win the national championship – Barkley delivered an early Christmas present to every Trojans fan. He walked onto campus and into Heritage Hall wearing a smile on Thursday, well-groomed and proud to acknowledge that he’ll be back next season to possibly lead the Trojans to a BCS bowl game.

If nothing else, USC is certainly more exciting and in prime contention as one of the top football programs in the nation, after the Trojans were in the second year of a two-year postseason ban for NCAA violations from Reggie Bush accepting improper benefits.

What the program retained was an NFL-ready quarterback, as well as a collegiate star on a mission to finish on top for what has the makings of a legendary tale, especially if he leads USC in its first year off probation and direct the well-respected team into national triumph. It comes as no surprise that he returned for the gratitude of USC fans, and more than ever, to compete for the crystal football.

“I know in my heart I have not yet finished my journey as a Trojan football player,” Barkley said. “The 2012 team has some serious unfinished business to attend to and I intend to play in it.”

The letters started arriving early in the mail on most mornings. The letter of recommendations were mailed and delivered to his house for signs of encouragement to coax Barkley in verbally committing and attending a university that expressed the deepest interest in the most decorated high school football player in Orange County history during four seasons at quarterback for Mater Dei.

He waited for his dream to turn into reality, and indeed, mastered an ultimate goal with his signed letter of intent. The ink was drying slowly, his signature was glowing brightly and he had chosen to exemplify the recent installment of much promise at USC. Before his commitment to the university where he has excelled to the fullest, he had attended commencement at Mater Dei. His graduation tassel was proudly beside him.

Barkley recalled as he entered as a non-redshirt freshman – and he felt honor and delighted when he earned the nod to be No. 4 Southern California’s starting quarterback in his first game. Embraced as the nation’s most coveted high school prospect, he’d believe he had the intangibles and worked out on campus. Barkley, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, and more importantly, has a chance to play for the championship. By now, it’s a clear explanation as to why he returned. And we now know that he turned down millions in NFL riches – for now, as he had been encouraged to go for money. But in the end, he stayed for pride and education.

The USC doors by all accounts were open and Barkley could have ventured to fulfill his lifelong dream in playing at the highest level. It’s good that he’s not money-hungry, all about fame and apparently not buying into the hype of being a top draftee in April. It’s good that he’s staying to fulfill his ambition on the collegiate level realizing top-dollars will be available next year, particularly if he can elevate his draft status next season.

Barkley, an unflappable kid and true leader poised for the moment, probably can lead USC to a national championship next season. The world is dominated with talk about Barkley, and now there’ll be plenty more Trojan Walks, in which he’ll stroll through a walkway of fans on his way to the Coliseum.

It’s exciting but he’s taking a risk by staying in school for another year, a dicey move if he sustains a career-threatening injury and devalues his chances in being picked as top player in the draft. While he’s not the first and only player to pass on an opportunity to turn pro, he’s at high risk of suffering a severe injury. He’s the most recent – and thus he’ll become the best quarterback arguably in the nation next season.

If he suffers an ailment, then he’d lower his draft status even with an unpredictable NFL draft class. There’s a strong chance the Southern California native and son of a former water polo star – a blonde with blue eyes, a devout Christian, can possibly win a 2012 national championship. There’s a strong chance he is a possible 2012 Heisman Trophy winner.

The most popular player, probably in the country now, is forever growing as a well-rounded athlete and has quarterbacked one of the highest-profile programs in the land. This is Hollywood, where so many athletic stars are treated like celebrities, in which they are in a sense, particularly Barkley.

He’s in a place of stars and where they blossom – he’s the star of a university and fits in perfectly with the crowd. Based on his blonde hair, white teeth and his emergence to stardom, he is one of the likable athletes in Southern California. It wasn’t long ago when a saddened Barkley called USC head coach Lane Kiffin to come to his house with his wife to meet him and his family to talk about his decision Wednesday evening.

So maybe it’s what came from everyone’s encouragement that helped Barkley make his choice, listening to all advice and now he’s staying. He asked Kiffin and USC athletic director Pat Haden for advice, making his decision a few days prior to the announcement.

It’s not easy turning down bundles of NFL money, but Barkley’s heart is with the Trojans and community, ready for his first and final opportunity – mind you – to lead USC to its first conference title and 12th national championship. Whether there is some good or bad to his decision, Barkley’s presence is felt and he can guide USC in one of the most historic moments in school history.

Ever thought?

“Our USC football team has been through some tough times, and we have preserved, but the 2012 team has some serious unfinished business to attend to, and I intend to play a part of it,” Barkley announced in his sentimental, eloquent speech. “So yes, I’ve firmly decided to forgo the NFL draft in 2012 and finish this exceptional and unique journey that I’ve had here at USC.”

This was even a proud moment for Kiffin, stepping onto the podium to share his kind words as the endless cheers and screams finally stopped. The point is, in what may have been his toughest decision ever, Barkley turned down high-draft pick money in guaranteed for an opportunity to fulfill his memorable journey at USC. Although a serious injury could permanently cripple the dream to play in the NFL and risk money, he’s on the verge of being regarded as one of the finest USC legends.

“I am prepared to play quarterback in the NFL, it is my dream to play quarterback in the NFL, and I intend to make that dream a reality,” Barkley said. “But I also know that I came to USC to compete and have a rare journey as a USC football player, earn a degree from this exceptional university and forge lifelong bonds with the Trojan family.”

The negative side is, he can turn out like former Trojans quarterback Matt Leinart. Years ago, he returned to school, lost the national title in a heartbreaking upset to Texas and lowered his draft stock, turning into an absolute bust.

For Barkley, this was a tough decision, very tough, a choice many student-athletes would not have chosen. This season, he threw for 3,528 yards, with 39 touchdown passes and just six interceptions.

“I love being a USC student-athlete, it is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but I am not postponing my dream and objective of playing in the NFL for one year so that I can just have one more year of college life,” Barkley said. “I’m staying because I want to finish what I started … finish alongside the most dedicated and courageous teammates I could ever have, and know for a few short years, I dedicated myself fully to achieving all that I can as a USC football player.”

With the heavy expectations, Barkley told his coach he was staying by giving Kiffin a Christmas ornament and had him turn it over. It was his sweet way of saying he was staying for one more year. The back of the ornament read, “One more year.”