Only a junior, Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) quarterback Matt Barkley (6-foot-4) threw for 3,576 yards and 35 TDs this year.
Chris Williams/Icon SMI
The kid comes from the same high school that produced 2004 Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart and 2007 Heisman finalist Colt Brennan.
He comes from a state that's produced Super Bowl MVPs John Elway and Tom Brady.
Yet, none of them accomplished what Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) junior quarterback Matt Barkley did when he received the 2007-08 Gatorade National Football Player of the Year trophy, becoming the first non-senior to win it.
Not that career firsts are anything new to Barkley. Mater Dei head coach Bruce Rollinson, a 19-year veteran, never thought he'd start a freshman quarterback. Then he met Barkley.
The quiet, humble Southern Californian remained as calm, cool and collected as he is in the pocket while accepting the award at a ceremony in Santa Ana on Wednesday.
"It's definitely more motivation to follow in that great line of quarterbacks at Mater Dei," said Barkley, who turned 17 on Sept. 8. "Danny O'Neill, Billy Blanton, John Flynn, I can name them all -- all through the years. Leinart. Colt Brennan. Even back in the day with (1964 Heisman Trophy winner John) Huarte. We have two Heisman winners that have gone here -- both quarterbacks. I don't feel pressure. I just have to live up to it. It's just further motivation to follow in their footsteps and be a great quarterback."
Barkley is off to good start. Combining a strict work ethic with a studious approach to the game -- not to mention a ton of talent -- the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Barkley threw for 3,576 yards and 35 touchdowns this year, completing 63 percent of his passes (214-of-340) against just nine interceptions.
The first junior captain in Mater Dei history (there he goes again with those career firsts), Barkley averaged 325 yards and 3.2 touchdown passes per game in leading the Monarchs (9-2) to the Southern Section Pac-5 Division quarterfinals, where they fell to Serra League top seed Crespi Carmelite (Encino, Calif.).
"I always wanted to be a quarterback," said Barkley. "Going out early and working hard, I think that's what got me here. I don't think I necessarily knew that I was special in a sense. I just always knew that I was going to outwork everyone to get to a certain point sometime in my life. Gradually putting that work in is paying off now."
Barkley surpassed the 300-yard threshold seven times and exceeded 400 yards twice in his 11 starts. His season-best performance was a 438-yard, five-touchdown masterpiece against Utah power American Fork (Utah) on Sept. 14, but the defining start of his season came three weeks later in a 38-13 win over Servite (Anaheim, Calif.). In front of 22,000 fans in Anaheim, Barkley threw for 348 yards and three scores on 16-of-24 passing. His final scoring pass went for 97 yards after he barely got the ball away while being dragged down in his own end zone.
"He's a great player," said Matt Logan, coach at Mater Dei rival Centennial (Corona, Calif.). "He's very accurate, makes good decisions and great throws. He'll probably be a Heisman Trophy candidate and probably an NFL guy down the line. I guess Matt Leinart is the benchmark, and he's definitely following in those footsteps."
Barkley is the fourth California player to win Gatorade National Football Player of the Year honors, joining 1988-89 winner Chris Lewis of Poly (Long Beach, Calif.), 2001-02 winner Lorenzo Booker of St. Bonaventure (Ventura, Calif.) and 2002-03 winner Kyle Wright of Monte Vista (Danville, Calif.).
"After his freshman season, I took him out to Athletes Performance and had him throw to guys like (Jacksonville Jaguars running back) Maurice Jones-Drew, (Tennessee Titans running back) LenDale White and (St. Louis Rams tight end) Dominique Byrd when they were just out of college," said Bill Cunerty, co-author of The Complete Quarterback and a consultant for Arizona-based Athletes Performance. "Each of them came off the field and asked me, 'Coach, what college team does this guy play for?'
"This kid started his first high school game at Mater Dei at 14," Cunerty added. "For Bruce Rollinson to go away from the I-formation to the spread, that's a miracle in itself, and he only did that because of Barkley."
Forever deflecting credit -- redirecting it to family, coaches and teammates -- Barkley affectionately calls his receivers "The Air Force." The Mater Dei signal-caller spread the wealth on the field all fall, as three of his receivers finished the season with more than 40 catches.
But it's off the field where Barkley literally spreads the wealth. Spearheading his team's Monarchs for Marines initiative, Barkley has helped raise more than $100,000 for a charity benefiting the families of wounded and fallen Marines. A 1st Marine Division patch is stitched on Mater Dei football jerseys as a constant reminder of this effort.
The nation's top-ranked recruit in the Class of 2009, Barkley has his choice of top college programs, including the heavyweights of the Pac-10, Big Ten and SEC. "After Christmas, I think I'm going to sort things out," said Barkley, still emanating his cool, gunslinger demeanor. "I'm just kind of relaxing right now."
Before he begins a college career and follows in the cleat marks of the great Mater Dei quarterbacks who've come before him, Barkley has one more first he'd like to add to his increasingly impressive resume.
"I want to win a championship to tell you the truth," said Barkley. "That's the one thing that's been missing. I've been in the semis, the quarters and even out in the first round last year, but I think that's the one thing that's missing -- to get that one CIF Championship."
In making that quest, he'll also take aim at consecutive Gatorade National Football Player of the Year awards. That would be another first. For Matt Barkley, that's all the motivation he needs.