Posted by ESPN.com’s Ted Miller
Matt Barkley is now The Man.
USC quarterbacks win Heismans. They win Rose Bowls and national championships. They get drafted in the top half of the first round of the NFL draft and make a lot of money.
Heck, some even pose for magazines in short shorts.
And Barkley, who turns 19 on Sept. 8, is the first to start the first game of his true freshman season.
|AP Photo/Jae C. Hong|
|Matt Barkley is prepared for all that comes with being the starting quarterback at USC.|
It’s hard being a true freshman quarterback for any team, but at USC the spotlight burns brighter than anywhere else.
USC opens its season at home Saturday against San Jose State. That will be a test run.
The next weekend the entire nation will tune in to see what Barkley can do against Ohio State in the decidedly unfriendly confines of the Horseshoe in Columbus.
It seemed like a good time to check in with Barkley to see how things were as he steps into his marquee role.
Life before you were USC’s starting quarterback and life after: How have things changed for you?
Matt Barkley: It’s not too different — except that the whole world is now looking at me [laugh]. I’m not really trying to change who I am. I’m just trying to be me and play football like I always have and stay true to my roots. But this is a dream come true. It’s pretty crazy how it’s all played out over the last couple of months, but I’m loving it. It really is neat.
What do you think you did to win the job?
MB: I think I just did what the coaches asked me to do: manage the game and be a leader that the offense can count on. Not try to do too much. Not try to be Mr. All-America because we’ve got such a great team this year. I just need to be able to manage that and get the ball to guys who can make plays. I think all the hard work during the offseason, the hours we put in, have really paid off now.
Leadership is such an important part of being a quarterback. How does a guy who’s an 18-year-old true freshman take a leadership role when you’re running a veteran offense with a bunch of guys who are headed to the NFL?
MB: That’s why coming in January really helped me, just to get to know the guys and establish relationships with the older players. That really helped. Just being normal, just showing them that I know how to play the game and that I’m not intimidated by anything or anyone. Just try to slowly earn their respect. It’s been a cool process.
So if Old Man Byers [sixth-year senior offensive lineman Matt Byers] misses a block, you feel completely comfortable getting on him and saying, ‘Man, you’ve got to make that block!’
MB: I don’t fear getting into anyone’s face because that will make them better. They’d do the same to me. [Senior safety] Will Harris has been talking in my ear hole this whole summer, trying to get in my head. He’s been trying to motivate me and trying to make me better. So, no, I’m not scared of Old Man Byers.
So have any of the veterans pulled you aside and given you advice?
MB: Nothing too specific, but all of them have been great and encouraging me just to be myself and don’t try to mold into anyone or try to fit the stereotypical USC quarterback role. Just be who you are. Also, to really try to control the ball. That’s what coach [Pete] Carroll has emphasized over and over again — protect the ball.
That’s what everybody seems to talk about — that you’ve got great talent and throw a great ball and you’re a smart, savvy guy but that you also try to do too much and throw interceptions. How much is that on your mind? Would consciously avoiding interceptions slow you down?
MB: No, I don’t think it has. I’ve made an emphasis this summer on not throwing picks, on not turning the ball over. Take the easy completions, the easy checkdowns and even throwing the ball away, which I’ve learned to do better. Whenever we’re getting positive yards, it’s a good thing. It wasn’t easy at first because that’s not the way I played growing up. But it has become a lot easier to be comfortable with checking the ball down and getting positive yards.
You come out of the Coliseum tunnel Saturday against San Jose State. You walk onto the field with the first-team offense. What will be going through your mind? It’s got to be a lot different than high school.
MB: No doubt I’ll have butterflies. It really will be a dream come true. I probably will be a little nervous, but I think after warm-ups and we get our juices flowing, it will be just like any other day out on the practice field. You try to block all the other stuff out. I’ll probably get motivated by the crowd, feel their energy. But when it comes game time, you learn to block all that out.
I know you only play one game at a time, but you’ve got to think a little about Ohio State. A hostile environment is a big thing for a quarterback. Has that drifted into your mind a little bit, to play in front of 105,000 fans who don’t like you very much?
MB: [Laughs] It has. I’m only taking one game at a time, but I have thought about it. It’s going to be an awesome game, an awesome environment. Our whole team is excited to go back East and play them. We’ll see what happens. But for now I’m really just focusing on San Jose State.
Have you and backup quarterback Aaron Corp had a chance to talk about how things went down?
MB: Not directly. Not specifically. It happened. We didn’t talk much that day. Everything kind of carried on like normal — normal meetings, normal practice — besides the title switch. We didn’t really get into a deep conversation about it. It wasn’t bad though.