LOS ANGELES -- This is a farewell letter to Matt Barkley. An emotional heartfelt goodbye to the Southern California quarterback and his family. After months of writing about sordid NCAA matters, fake girlfriends and deer antler spray, it's over.
That would be Barkley's college career. It's just hitting me now. The NFL combine is this weekend where it's major news that Barkley won't throw for scouts. His right (throwing) shoulder was separated late last season only because he came back for his senior season against all odds. No one would have blamed Barkley in the least if he had checked out after 2011, a career altered by his original coach (Pete Carroll) leaving and NCAA probation.
But he came back for that senior season and part of me feels sorry that it didn't end better. When we met five years ago, Les and Beverly Barkley wrecked their car driving to Matre Dei High School to meet me for an interview with their son. They were more than accommodating with their time. They could have hit me up for their deductible.
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I feel sorry for Barkley despite his beautiful life and -- soon -- his beautiful wife. USC's former quarterback will marry girlfriend Brittany Langdon later this year. I feel a little bit sorry for Barkley doing the "right" thing. Matt could have been at or near the No. 1 in last year's draft had he come out early. You may have heard the Trojans bolted out to a 5-1 start ,only to crumble to a 7-6 finish. USC was the first preseason AP No. 1 to finish unranked.
I feel sorry for him this weekend because he's no longer ours. The NFL will soon suck him up. Some of that innocence will be lost, won't it?
Some wag at the combine Friday asked him why his numbers "fell off" as a senior. Fell off? Yeah, Barkley went all the way from 69 percent completion percentage to 63.6. His touchdown passes "plummeted" from 39 to 36. He threw for exactly 155 fewer yards than 2011 while missing two games because of a shredded shoulder.
"How do you account for the fact your numbers weren't the same?" the reporter-bordering-on-knucklehead pressed on.
"Think about it," Barkley shot back. "You can't get better every single year. It's physically impossible."
Welcome to the pros, kid.
His dad told me his son moved away to train in Birmingham, Ala., just to strike out on his own. The same reason he didn't train in his West Coast homeland is the same reason he went overseas on missions -- sometimes at personal peril. Matt Barkley was growing up.
He built houses in Haiti and character in the locker room. It's who he is. So Barkley won't throw this weekend. So what? I get this strange feeling that ultimately Matt's biggest contribution won't be in football. He is going to be something greater. Sure, he'll get plenty of commercials and endorsements. Matt is the epitome of Southern California cool. I could also see him on CNN or PBS, hosting. A Congressman maybe. Certainly a Christian, which has been reflected throughout his life -- a lower-key Tim Tebow without all the drama and baggage.
Barkley has reminded us that it's OK to keep your head down, keep your rep clean, that it's not all about promotion, probation and PEDs That's why we should feel a little bit sorry. This is not the way his college career was supposed to end.
"Unfinished business" will have to remain that forever for a guy who blew up the USC record book.
One of the greatest quarterbacks in USC history will have played in exactly one bowl (Emerald, 2009), not even sniffing the BCS.
"The thing about Matt, not for one minute did he regret coming back," USC AD Pat Haden said. "He had a great college experience. Everybody just expected him to throw four touchdowns every game. Losing against Notre Dame, losing in the bowl game, maybe we realized we had a pretty special guy."
That special guy moves on leaving a legacy. Put a percentage on the number of big-time quarterbacks who would have transferred in the face of a two-year bowl ban. What are the odds the nation's No. 3 QB in touchdown passes (39 in 2011) risking everything to come back for his senior season?
Barkley did when there was next to nothing left to prove and his draft position to lose. Did Barkley make the right decision -- or does it matter?
"It's an incredible family," said David Carter, a USC Associate Professor of Management and Organization. "It's just amazing."
Les and Beverly passed along the mandate of service to their fellow man to their children. Matt, his siblings and his teammates have been inspired to make those mission trips. At home, the Barkleys established Monarchs for Marines, adopting the First Marine Division at nearby Camp Pendleton.
"When people say, 'Is it hard you can't play in a bowl game?,' Barkley once said. "I still love the fact that I'm alive and my life isn't threatened every day."
Maybe his story proves that there is hope for a system that looks wrecked. USC still has one year of penalties to serve from sanctions applied by the NCAA which relied on testimony of a convicted felon. Meanwhile, Barkley spent his last summer on campus working on a direct research project for one of Carter's classes. According to Carter, directed research is when a student wants to pursue an idea outside of a traditional class.
Might as well call the result Matt Barkley Inc. Before his final season, Barkley researched how he wanted to be seen by others -- media, potential sponsors and society.
"He is writing his own personal branding strategy," Carter said before the season. "How does he handle himself going forward? It's what USC wants to do with him, what he wants to do with himself.
"He's been very engaging. It strikes me that to a certain extent he is in the swan song of his career. He's going to enjoy that. It's how he balances what's left of school, performing on the field, family and religion. At the end of the day he's a dopey, 21-year-old kid. There's something really endearing about that."
Let's hope there remains terms of endearment. Soon he'll be in that NFL vortex where Barkley can pursue the championship he never won. That's refreshing but not the happy ending at USC he will never have. That's why last month, I called Les Barkley, just because. No interview. We met for coffee and talked about our kids, our lives. Then my phone blew up, something about an NCAA conference call regarding the association's use of an outside attorney.
"Go ahead, go to your conference call," Les said.
On the way to the parking lot, he proudly showed off the SUV that replaced the wrecked of Lexus five years ago.
I'm going to miss more than Matt Barkley. I'm going to miss him and his family and the way USC and college football were when they were around.
USC will be back. Matt Barkley, never. Farewell, bud.