LOS ANGELES -- Matt Corral is proud of his existence on both sides of the fence. You know, the one that separates rich from poor, privileged from not, fortunate from luckless. The Ole Miss quarterback played football at one of the most prestigious high schools in the country. In that setting, he once fought Wayne Gretzky's son.
He also finished up at a national power in an urban setting where he made a friend for life. That friend is currently awaiting trial for felony robbery and burglary.
So, yes, Corral's life has straddled that fence. Life has taught him to constantly swivel his head to assess his surroundings. Mostly, Corral has been ready for it. As the SEC's leading returner passer, the game is ready to embrace him. The last two leading returning SEC passers were picked fifth overall (Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa, 2020) and in the second round (Florida's Kyle Trask, 2021).
A deeper story is revealed in how the junior from here in Southern California learned how to like himself.
The transformation caught him by surprise. Part of it came last summer during a team meeting following George Floyd's murder. Similar meetings had been convened among dozens of programs across the country.
This was different. This was a reckoning beyond social justice. Corral was called out by teammate Otis Reese, a defensive back and transfer from Georgia.
"I'll never forget this," Corral recalled. "He said, 'Hey, f--- all that. Matt, you're the quarterback. What do you think?' That's how I got put on the spot."
SEC football will prepare you for a lot of things. Not this. This was Corral being tested as a leader, as a man. Whatever came out of his mouth next would define him to a roomful of teammates and coaches.
"I'm like, 'I can't just sit there. I've got to say something,'" Corral told CBS Sports.
So he told them about personal experiences that got him to the loving arms of Oxford, Mississippi. It took all of 5 minutes. It was his chance to show his leadership skills, reinforce that a kid from Cali, who once committed to USC, could be the man at Archie Manning's school.
With tensions high, the country roiling from Floyd's murder and a team looking to him for what was next, a white kid from Southern California took the floor.
"I got put on the spot," Corral said. "I just told them what was in my heart. It all clicked. They loved what I said, and I meant it."
He basically said he would fight for them. It didn't matter where they were from or what they had done.
Corral certainly had the fighting part down. That high school altercation with Tristan Gretzky -- son of hockey icon Wayne Gretzky -- came at Oaks Christian in Westlake Village, California, a "rich school" (per Corral) where students "flashed money" and were "never going to have to work a day in their lives."
TMZ latched on to the story, which is never good.
"That kid, his dad, went through hoops to f--- my life up," Corral said.
At this point, Corral was asked if he was sure he wants all of this on the record. He was pouring his heart out much like he did that day in front of the Rebels.
"Eventually," he concluded, "it's going to have come out."
Attempts by CBS Sports to reach the Gretzkys for comment on this story were unsuccessful.
The unloading process has begun. Even more eyes are on him this season. If Corral isn't the SEC's best quarterback going into 2021, he is its most accomplished after the departure of Trask and Alabama's Mac Jones. It was easy to be overshadowed by those two last season even when Corral was throwing for 3,337 yards and 29 touchdowns while leading the SEC's most potent offense.
The irony is obvious. We're witnessing the maturation of both coach and player, the ascension of two former Wild Things. Very quietly, Lane Kiffin has become something close to consistent and grounded.
Since being fired at USC eight years ago, Kiffin has won two conference titles and 63% of his games. A rebound job as offensive coordinator at Alabama resulted in three SEC titles and a national championship. Corral just posted the third-most accurate season by an SEC quarterback since 2011 (70.9%) despite games of five (LSU) and six interceptions (Arkansas).
"As long as Kiffin is there, you've got nothing to worry about," he said.
Corral remembers the day everything turned around for him: April 9, 2020. The date is less of a consequence than what happened that day.
Laying on a couch in his Oxford apartment, Corral began to cry. "Just sad," he said.
The Matt Corral who produced those unsavory headlines, committed to three different schools and was "in a depression" had to change.
"I don't know why," Corral said. "I got tired of feeling like that. Just tired of making excuses. I got tired of having vices for my problems, like drinking. It f---ed with me. I don't even drink anymore."
"I made a promise to myself I was going to be different," he added. "I was always doing something for other people. I wasn't being selfish, [but] it was finally time for me to be selfish and worry about myself."
Corral now says he didn't get through that depression until his sophomore year of college. Corral's parents convinced him to attend therapy sessions, as The Athletic reported in 2019. In and of itself, that should be no surprise. Concerns over players' mental health is one of the most under-reported aspects of modern college athletics.
It's also fair to say Corral had a reputation. That fight with the young Gretzky led Corral's parents to pull him out of Oaks Christian and enroll him at Long Beach Poly, 57 miles away in terms of driving distance. In terms of separation for Corral, it was a million miles.
"They can sit back with mommy and daddy's money and that's that," Corral said of Oaks Christian. "By the way they treated me and the way they came off toward me, it rubbed me the wrong way."
That was communicated too that day when Corral was challenged by Reese.
"I told them where I came from. It didn't matter," Corral said. "I went to a school that was $35,000 a year [in tuition]. And I went to Long Beach Poly, where it was completely different."
It was in Long Beach where Corral once again faced that fence. Eventually, the quarterback and his favorite receiver, Jalen Hall, found themselves on the same side.
"I've always gotten along with kids who were troubled," Corral said. "At the end of the day, they weren't brought up like a regular kid. They didn't have the luxury of two regular parents with two regular jobs and a regular home. That's not how they came up."
That's not to say Hall was troubled, but he did come up that way. Hall came out of Long Beach Poly in 2018 as a four-star prospect. In his first season, Oregon's Mario Cristobal snatched him up as part of the nation's No. 13 recruiting class, per 247Sports. Hall never made it to fall camp, leaving the team in Spring 2018 for unspecified reasons. Then in September of that year, he was arrested in connection with a home invasion, burglary and kidnapping. In California, the kidnapping charge came with the potential for a life sentence.
Hall pleaded not guilty. Bail was set at $2.1 million.
"That's one of my best guys forever, for sure," Hall says of Corral now. "It started at Poly. It was great, especially the chemistry that we had."
Over the past 2 ½ years, that chemistry existed over the phone. Bail was reduced and Hall was released in April, pending trial.
But while in jail, access to the outside world was measured at 25 cents per minute. That's how much it cost Hall to use the phone. Over the 30 months he was incarcerated, Hall had few voices on the other end of the line. Corral's was one of the most frequent.
"It showed me a lot about his character," Hall said, "who he is and the love we have for each other. We'd talk about random stuff. How are you feeling? The type of things we wanted to do when I came home."
Corral didn't have to make those calls. His own career was taking off. But that's what they do on the same side of the fence. Hall is represented by Darren Richie, an LA-based attorney with expertise in entertainment, criminal defense and personal injury law. He is allowed to speak to a reporter over the phone only if an associate is present to screen questions.
Details on the state of his case are few, but Hall, now 21, is holding out hope he can be on the field somewhere this fall. The kidnapping charge has been dropped, meaning a life sentence is off the table.
Meanwhile, another life is just beginning as a new Corral strolls down the old streets of Oxford.
"You're going to feel at home," the quarterback said. "People are so welcoming. … When they find out you play ball, they're going to love you, brother."