Grounded in faith, Barkley leads the way for Mater Dei
The first junior to win Gatorade National High School Football Player of the Year, Matt Barkley is smooth, cerebral and grounded in faith, writes Christopher Lawlor.
When Barkley takes the ball, he's clearly in command. The spirals are tight, the footwork would make Fred Astaire proud, the decisions are concise and he delivers the ball with the precision of Swiss timing.
As Steve Clarkson barks out orders, fledgling quarterbacks throw wobbly passes, overthrow widely and mess up on their footwork.
It doesn't sit well with Clarkson, so he turns to Barkley, who doesn't disappoint. On cue, Barkley simulates pressure in the pocket on a seven-step drop. He rolls to the right and fires a 40-yard cross-field pass, putting the ball into the receiver's hands near the end zone flag.
Touchdown! Clarkson is smiling.
Barkley to play in Under Armour Game
GLENDALE, Calif. -- Matt Barkley, the nation's top junior quarterback, called an audible Saturday morning when he committed to playing in the 2009 Under Armour High School Football All-America Game on Jan. 4 at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
The annual all-star game featuring the nation's elite players in the Class of 2009 has a prime-time feel, kicking off at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN and will shift from Disney's World of Sports Complex in nearby Lake Buena Vista to a big league venue.
Sporting a red Under Armour '09 game jersey, Barkley seemed at ease on the makeshift set on the field at Glendale Community College.
"I'm excited to be headed to Florida and Disney for this game," Barkley said. "But there's still work to be done."
Barkley has reached out to several juniors on the ESPN 150 watch list, hoping to enlist them in the senior all-star game.
"I'll get some others for the game, no doubt," he said.
Barkley heads to the back of the line. His peers are in awe. There are a few dropped jaws but Barkley doesn't react. This is the norm.
"Watching him play you can't help but learn things," said Max Wittek, a 14-year-old quarterbacking prodigy from Norwalk, Conn.
Barkley was one of nearly 100 quarterbacks from 32 states who attended the two-day Steve Clarkson QB Academy, a workshop for the promising players. Clarkson, a quarterback guru, has tutored the likes of Ben Roethlisberger, J.P. Losman, Matt Leinart, John Walsh, Gino Torretta, Dayne Crist and Jimmy Clausen. Now Barkley is his latest prodigy.
"Matt [Barkley] was always thrown in with the older boys [Clausen and Crist]," said Clarkson, who first coached Barkley as a 14-year-old. "Jimmy [Clausen] followed Matt Leinart and Matt [Barkley] is following Dayne Crist.
"Because he's been with older players, Matt is dialed in and he's so much further than the others. His learning curve has been shortened; he's so special."
Tom Luginbill, a former quarterback at Georgia Tech and the national recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc., is impressed with Barkley's makeup.
"The buzz is warranted," Luginbill said. "He's polished and well ahead of the others. He reminds me of Matt Stafford [now at the University of Georgia] when he was in high school. He's ready for college. He has a tremendous sense of anticipation, great footwork and works through his progressions unlike any other high school player.
"Matt [Barkley] is so cerebral and he has a high ceiling. He has a mental clock in a head and knows when to throw. Some of it is learned and some is innate. He'll come into college with that advantage, giving him a slight edge over the rest."
In January, Barkley pulled the trigger on his college decision, choosing Southern California, where he will be joined by elite wide receiver Morrell Presley of Carson, Calif., who also attended the Clarkson Academy.
"I wanted to get it [the decision] out of the way so I could concentrate on my senior season," Barkley said. "I'm very comfortable with coaches Pete Carroll and [offensive coordinator] Steve Sarkisian. Coach Carroll has such an abundance of energy and enthusiasm. Look at what he's done in the last six years. Coach Sark relates to his players well; he's cerebral.
"I've attended many games at the Los Angeles Coliseum and love the campus. In my heart I knew this was the right place."
Some felt UCLA might get a shot at Barkley with the recent hiring of head coach Rick Neuheisel and offensive savant Norm Chow. But the Trojans triumphed in this local recruiting battle. Matt's father, Les Barkley, was an All-American water polo player at USC in the late 1970s.
"Matt and I train Saturdays with Steve [Clarkson]," Presley said. "He's so precise, has great technique and a strong arm. We're developing chemistry now; we'll be ready at USC."
Barkley's decision perplexed some who say there's a crowded house at quarterback on USC's depth chart.
"Matt's not afraid of competition," Clarkson said. "He doesn't care who they have. He'll compete for time with Mark [Sanchez], Aaron [Corp] and Mitch [Mustain]. He'll allow the chips to fall where they may."
At 6-3, 220 pounds, Barkley is a chiseled athlete who enters his senior season in September as a rare four-year starter.
Barkley will be coming off one of the greatest individual seasons in high school football history. He helped Mater Dei reach the Southern California Pac-5 Division quarterfinals, throwing for an Orange County-record 3,560 yards and 35 touchdowns on 213-of-340 accuracy (63 percent completion rate).
In three seasons, he's passed for 6,594 yards and 57 TDs.
He became the first junior named the Gatorade National High School Football Player of the Year and was the inaugural recipient of the Joe Montana Quarterback of the Year Award, presented by the DeBartolo Sports University, given to high school's top quarterback (regardless of class).
"The Gatorade award meant so much because it encompassed more than athletics," said Les Barkley.
But those are just numbers and awards, not what makes Matt Barkley tick.
For all the physical gifts Barkley possesses, his greatest gift is his faith.
Barkley, a devout Christian, is at peace. He knows one play, one injury, could end his football career, but relies on his faith to pull him through uphill battles.
Barkley stat pack
2005 (freshman): Passed for 1,685 yards and 10 touchdowns but the Monarchs lost in the Southern Sectional Division I semifinals. Suffered a season-ending injury (broken collarbone) in the quarterfinals.
2006 (sophomore): Passed for 1,349 yards and 11 touchdowns but the Monarchs fell in the opening round of the postseason.
2007 (junior): Passed for an Orange County-record 3,560 yards and 35 TDs, completing 213 of 340 passes (63 percent accuracy) with only nine interceptions. The Monarchs lost in the Pac-5 quarterfinals and reached as high as No. 2 in the ESPN HIGH Elite 25 rankings.
"I'm grateful for all the gifts the Lord has blessed me with," Barkley said. "I look forward to attending church each week."
Barkley, who attends Rock Harbor Church, a nondenominational Christian congregation in Costa Mesa, has two playbooks, the more noteworthy one being the Bible.
He favors several chapters from Proverbs, saying they teach wisdom. Proverbs covers a broad scope of human and divine activity, ranging from matters purely secular to lofty moral and religious truths.
"Get wisdom, get understanding," reads Proverbs 4:5.
"We're taught to trust Him and acknowledge Him; it's inspiring," Barkley said.
Barkley's parents and his faith keep him grounded.
"His Christian walk really drives him," Les Barkley said.
Les, who co-owns an insurance business with his brother in-law, invokes Ephesians 3:14-19 when explaining the basis of his family's faith.
"May He strengthen you inwardly through the working of his spirit; may charity be the root and foundation of your life," Les Barkley said, paraphrasing the New Testament epistle.
"Being a young person isn't easy. There are so many pressures for today's teens. My wife [Beverly] and I tell our three children, you can find strength in these verses."
Matt Barkley may not wear his faith on his sleeve -- he prefers to let his actions speak for him -- but he does profess his faith through music. He plays acoustic guitar with a church youth group and is enthused with the results.
A Taylor 400 series is his instrument of choice. He favors Christian rock bands Audio Adrenaline and Third Day but also is a huge fan of U2.
When he jams, he's usually emulating U2's renowned guitarist, The Edge. Classic anthems such as "Where Streets Have No Name," "Pride (In the Name of Love)" and "Vertigo" are among his favorites.
"[The Edge] might not be flashy but he's all class," Barkley said.
The same can be said for Barkley and his Mater Dei teammates.
In the fall, the Monarchs dedicated their season to the troops stationed at Camp Pendleton. The program was named Monarchs for Marines (M4M) and was the brainchild of Les Barkley.
Barkley and his wife were hiking in the mountains of Wyoming in November 2006 when a light bulb went off.
What happened last summer at Camp Pendleton was remarkable.
One hundred Mater Dei players, 20 coaches and 75 parents volunteered their time and energy to landscape and renovate youth areas on the military base.
"The Marines are a brotherhood and so is our team," Matt Barkley said. "The Marines are an inspiration and it was great to be able to help them; they've given us so much."
Additionally, the football team and Mater Dei's dance team held youth camps. The football team under the guidance of coach Bruce Rollinson held a clinic for the Marine Corps Youth Football League's players and coaches.
Last season, to commemorate their special relationship with the First Marine Division, Mater Dei players and coaches wore the Guadalcanal Patch on their uniforms.
First Division Commanding Gen. Richard Mills, expressing his gratitude, said, "For so many at Camp Pendleton that are so far from their hometown, we now have a new team, the Mater Dei Monarchs."
During the 9-2 campaign, Marines were present at each of Mater Dei's games. In the Monarch's final regular-season home game before 25,000 at Anaheim Stadium against rival Servite (Anaheim), Marines and sailors from Camp Pendleton were honored with special ceremonies and the school hosted a pregame barbecue for the servicemen, servicewomen and their families.
M4M has raised more than $100,000 for families of fallen or wounded Marines.
"Many of the Marines are only a couple of years older than the Mater Dei players," Les Barkley said. "It was very emotional for all of us."
Coach Rollinson said many of the Marines' tenets reflect Mater Dei's call to courage, poise and pride.
After last year's disappointing finish, when they were ousted from the Southern Section playoffs in the quarterfinals, the Monarchs need to replace several key players, especially at wide receiver.
Robbie Boyer, Barkley's cousin and last season's favorite target (the two hooked up for 14 touchdowns), will play at USC as a preferred walk-on.
Boyer said his cousin's poise will carry the Monarchs.
"He has unbelievable mental composure for someone his age," said Boyer, who played on the same youth soccer, baseball, football and basketball teams with Barkley. "In the huddle, he's in charge. He's calm and has an aura about him. Matt is calm and he gets that from his faith in God which was instilled by his parents."
Barkley is the next in a long line of great Mater Dei quarterbacks. The names include Colt Brennan and two Heisman Trophy winners in Leinart and John Huarte (Notre Dame). Mater Dei and Woodrow Wilson of Dallas are the only high schools which can boast two alumni as Heisman winners.
Barkley's position coach at Mater Dei, Don Money, is one of nation's best. Money has groomed signal-callers for the Monarchs for the past two decades.
Mater Dei is in negotiations to open the season on Sept. 3 against Carson on the ESPN family of networks.
Barkley will continue his weekly offseason workouts with Clarkson and play in 7-on-7 passing tournaments with Mater Dei before the first day of practice on Aug. 18.
"I'm close with my teammates, we'll have good team chemistry," he said.
Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA Today, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball and boys and girls basketball. He also for worked for Scholastic Coach magazine, where he ran the Gatorade national player of the year program for nine years. Lawlor, a New Jersey resident, grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University.