Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei standout Matt Barkley was the first quarterback under coach Bruce Rollinson to start as a freshman since Rollinson took over in 1989.
Why is that such a big deal? Because quarterbacks like Matt Leinart, Colt Brennan and others also played at Mater Dei.
Now a junior, the 6-foot-4, 222-pound Barkley completed 62 percent of his passes for 3,560 yards and 35 touchdowns last season on his way to earning Rivals.com's Junior of the Year Award.
Barkley is already considered one of the greatest quarterbacks at a high school that has produced two quarterbacks who won the Heisman Trophy (John Huarte in 1961 and Leinart in 2004). But to those who know him best, it's neither stats nor awards that make Barkley the best player in the class of 2009. It's much more.
"He's got the God-given arm strength, his vision is impeccable and he has great instincts for the position," said Rollinson of his star quarterback. "But it's his passion for the game and his work ethic that separates him. He studies so much film he even spent time with us learning the pass protection schemes so he'd know where pressure was coming from on each play. It's the little things like that."
Barkley is accumulating honors at a fast clip. In addition to the Rivals.com award, he was the first junior to win the Gatorade Player of the Year award for football.
"I just love football," Barkley said. "I always wanted to be a quarterback because I like the feeling of control I get with it. I like to know where the ball is going all the time, that's why I don't like defense at all. Defense is for a different kind of personality than mine. I like the mental aspect of quarterback too, and love watching film and being in the weight room. I like everything about it."
His parents, Les and Beverly, see that work ethic every day.
"Matt is very driven and focused," Les Barkley said. "He's focused not just on football, when he focuses on something he gives it his all whether it's academics, football, music - he focuses well on a task. From picking up the guitar and teaching himself to play it to working hard in the weight room and studying film, he's sacrificed a lot to become good."
Mother and father agree.
"People say he's talented because he has the best quarterback coach, we hear that a lot," said his mother Beverly. "But he works so hard it's beyond anything I've ever seen. He sees the long-term goal and delays gratification because he knows what he wants. He's always working whether it's watching film, lifting weights, throwing on weekends to his teammates. He's where he is because he's worked so hard to be there."
Barkley has also remained humble despite all the attention he's receiving. The spotlight began to shine a little brighter when he committed to USC even though he is only halfway through his junior year of high school.
"I first heard about Rivals.com in my sophomore year of high school," he said. "I started checking out other players and watching videos of the top guys. To be mentioned with past (Junior of the Year) winners like Terrelle Pryor, Jimmy Clausen, Percy Harvin and others is pretty ridiculous. It's a great honor."
Rollinson won't go so far as to say that Barkley is the best quarterback he's ever coached, especially with Leinart, Brennan, Billy Blanton, John Flynn and Danny O'Neill playing their high school ball at Mater Dei. But he knows his current quarterback will go down as one of the best.
"What's the point of saying who's the best?" said Rollinson. "Matt will go down in history here as one of the best, and as a four-year starter he's in a different category that way. Matt Leinart started for two years, Billy Blanton 2 1/2 years, John Flynn 2 1/2 years - none of them started as a true freshman. That speaks to Matt's ability."
Barkley was not just handed the starting job as a freshman, he had to earn it.
"They didn't have an established quarterback so they called up about seven quarterbacks, some were sophomores and some were freshmen and we all competed. It got narrowed down to three of us, and before the first week of the season coach told me I was the starter.
"I was pretty excited, probably too excited for the first game because I was screaming and yelling so much I lost my voice before the game and it was hard to call the signals. The seniors on the team calmed me down and really helped me through it."
The odd thing is, without a man named Brent Melbon, now the coach at Dana Hills High School in California, Barkley might not even be a quarterback.
"Matt was always a good athlete and played soccer and baseball when he was younger, but when he decided to play junior football, he knew he wanted to be a quarterback," Les Barkley said. "That's what he always wanted to be.
"Well, the junior football coach didn't think first-year players should be at skill positions, so he was going to put Matt on the offensive line. He was very disappointed. He would have done it, but he was devastated. So Brent was working with him and got into an argument about letting Matt have another week to work with him at quarterback. Who knows if he'd be playing quarterback now if that hadn't happened?"
"I never thought of it that way," Barkley said with a laugh. "I probably would have played offensive line that year and been devastated, but I think I would have played quarterback the next year. But who knows? Coach Melbon polished me until I got to high school."
USC had always been in my heart. After seeing some other places, I just kept hearing the roar of the Coliseum and I knew there was no point in holding back. I knew where I wanted to go, so why wait?
- Matt Barkley on his commitment to USC
Barkley has had the privilege to work with many top quarterback coaches from Melbon to Mater Dei offensive coordinator Dave Money to quarterbacks guru Steve Clarkson.
Barkley credits all his coaches, but his work ethic makes him a special prospect.
"Matt only sees Steve Clarkson about five, 10 times a year, the rest of the time he's on his own throwing to his wide receivers or working with the Mater Dei coaches," Beverly Barkley said. "He just fell in love with football and works so hard at it. He's been lucky enough to have great coaches to work with, but if I had to pick one quality about him that stands out it's his dedication."
The family has handled the recruiting process very well, and they indicated that it has been a positive experience overall.
"The media has been terrific overall and respectful of our time," said Les. "We sit with Matt and tell him he needs to be discerning about what questions are going to be asked and it's a learning process. Most of the people who contact us are from reputable and respected organizations like Rivals.com, but there are some others that you have no idea who they are. But we've enjoyed it."
The recruiting process has been a short one for Barkley by today's standards. He made his decision and chose USC before he could even take an official visit.
"Matt started getting his first offers during the spring of his sophomore year, a lot of them," said his father, who played water polo at USC. "We got to visit a few places and meet some great coaches and people and really enjoyed that. But Matt grew up in Southern California and he grew up loving USC football from a young age. He's not one to play games or waste anyone's time, so he came to us and said he wanted to play at USC. So, we called coach (Pete) Carroll."
"USC had always been in my heart," Matt Barkley said. "After seeing some other places, I just kept hearing the roar of the Coliseum and I knew there was no point in holding back. I knew where I wanted to go, so why wait? Now I can get to know other USC commits in my class and hopefully help recruit a few."
So the rich get richer as USC lands the prize of the 2009 recruiting class before Letter of Intent Day for the class of 2008. Barkley will play his senior season at Mater Dei next fall, and hopes to follow in the footsteps of Leinart.
Who knows, maybe Mater Dei will have three Heisman-winning quarterbacks before Barkley completes his career as a Trojan.