- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
The connection between USC and Mater Dei, both private schools in urban areas, is long-standing. Rollinson played receiver and defensive back for the Trojans, and when he took over the Monarchs 22 years ago, he implemented a system similar to the one he had learned from John McKay. High school and college programs switched to the spread, but Mater Dei and USC stuck with their pro-style offense, which requires a pocket passer who can look off two receivers and knock the wind out of the third. A Mater Dei QB spends his lunch break watching film, learns how to analyze cut-ups on his laptop and recognizes defensive fronts by his junior season. Free time comes on Saturdays at noon, when players are let out early to watch USC—or UCLA if so inclined. "Mater Dei is a mini-SC," says Trojans center Khaled Holmes, who has protected Barkley since ninth grade.
Monarchs quarterbacks looking for extra tutelage are steered to nationally known passing gurus. Leinart worked with Steve Clarkson. Marinovich worked with Bill Cunerty. Barkley worked with both. On Tuesdays he met Clarkson at Area H outside the Rose Bowl, with a stack of five-by-seven index cards detailing his reads. "You don't want to be outside this stadium," Clarkson told him. "You want to be in it." On Sundays he met Cunerty at Saddleback College in nearby Mission Viejo, where they shortened his delivery and loosened his grip. "If the safety is reading what I'm doing, could I show a high spine angle and then throw low?" Barkley asked one day. "College players don't even ask me questions like that," a beaming Cunerty replied.
Barkley is a visual learner, so much so that when his mom wants him to take out the trash, she has to write the task on a piece of paper. Football allowed him to meld his physical gifts with his mental ones, because all the relevant information is in a playbook and on a projector. "I process things like a computer," Barkley says. "I love math because you can use a function to produce a correct answer. That's how I treat football. You study the situation—somebody is blitzing, the corner is creeping—and then you look at the angles, go through the matrix of possibilities and figure out the right pass to throw." His top receiver at Mater Dei was his cousin Robbie Boyer, who lived down the block. They'd run plays in their gated community, on a field that always seemed to be mowed, under a sky that always seemed to be blue. "It was pretty perfect," Barkley says.
About a year ago he was approached by the Christian organization I Am Second to film a video about his life. Other athletes and celebrities, ranging from Josh Hamilton to Kathy Ireland, had recorded segments, and when Barkley watched them, he heard riveting accounts of drug addiction and violence. "Sorry, I don't have much for you," he told the producers. "I've never even had a relative die. It's been very PG." Barkley thought hard about what, if anything, he could muster. "I ended up doing it," he says, "because we've all got a story."
As a member of Rock Harbor church in Costa Mesa, Barkley played guitar in the worship band and took humanitarian missions with his family during holidays. They helped build houses in Haiti and Mexico, volunteered at orphanages in Nigeria and South Africa, and saw images Barkley never forgot: slums, mass graves, boys playing on soccer fields covered with rocks and glass. At Mater Dei he and his parents founded Monarchs for Marines, an organization that raised $300,000 in educational bonds for the children of fallen soldiers from nearby Camp Pendleton. Barkley visited the base with teammates every year to landscape the youth center and meet the kids. "I'm grateful that I saw more than Newport," Barkley says. "Otherwise, when everything started going on at USC, I could have been like: Why is this happening to me?"
It is hard to identify a player who has suffered more from the fallout of college football's mercenary behavior than Barkley. "He got here when USC football was bigger than it's ever been, maybe bigger than anybody has ever been," says Kiffin. "And all of a sudden...." In an eight-month span in 2010, when everybody but Barkley saw the NCAA sledgehammer rising and falling in slow motion, USC became the site of a high-powered exodus: Carroll bolted for the Seahawks and took along offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates; athletic director Mike Garrett was fired; president Steven Sample resigned. In early January 2010, when Barkley was still a freshman and USC seemed to have no coaching staff, he watched the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on television and counted the players who had made verbal commitments to Carroll. "They're all left hanging," Barkley thought.
He started calling recruits from his apartment, and when he needed more numbers, he went to the football office and set up a makeshift phone bank. "I'm still here," he told them. "I'm going to stick it out. We're going to make it happen. USC is bigger than one person, one coach." Among those he reached was Robert Woods, now his primary receiver. "He was the spokesman for the university," says Trojans punter Kyle Negrete, "and he was 19."
Barkley felt uncomfortable talking in public, so his parents role-played interviews in their living room, pelting him with the toughest questions they could conjure. When the sanctions were announced in June, Les told him: "This is going to end. You're going to come out the other side. Do you want to mope or do you want to lead?" Barkley drove to Heritage Hall and faced the cameras. Two days later he held a barbecue for the team at his parents' home in Newport. "They were so resolute," Beverly says. "You feel like, 'It will be great, we'll stick together, and we'll show everybody.' You don't realize how dark the cloud is going to get."
Six players transferred, two recruits decommitted. Practices, which used to be like block parties, were closed to fans. Barkley couldn't even invite Zamperini anymore. Beverly keeps a journal in a spiral notebook, and during 2010 she was filling about a page a day. She titled it Year of Trials. In the last two months of the season, the Trojans lost five games. They used to go three years without losing five games. USC accepted its bowl ban immediately but was allowed to delay scholarship reductions for two years, a small victory that proved significant. The Trojans would land a top five recruiting class, which included Max Wittek, a decorated quarterback from Newport Beach who starred at Mater Dei and studied under Clarkson.
Barkley prayed for brighter days. He remains deeply religious, the player who used to lead the team mass at Mater Dei, and still returns to address the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. When he broke his collarbone in high school, during a quarterfinal playoff game, he calmly told Rollinson, "It's O.K. It's God's plan." The coach cracked, "Well, I wish He had planned a different protection." Barkley's faith prompts inevitable comparisons to Tebow, but Barkley is more understated. "They are polar opposites," says a friend. "Matt doesn't preach to anybody. He's not in the huddle saying, 'Praise the Lord, now let's score a touchdown.' It's all inside him." Barkley did praise God in a postgame interview as a freshman, after USC beat Ohio State, and the backlash was startling. "I love to share my faith, but you have to know the time and place," Barkley says. "I've learned that people don't always want to hear your thoughts on religion and politics. You don't need to shove it down their throats."