When the final story is written years from now, chronicling the football achievements of quarterback Matt Barkley, don't let anyone downplay the significance of what happened in the fall of 2005.
Barkley was 15 and just starting to take classes at Santa Ana Mater Dei when Coach Bruce Rollinson made the decision to start him at quarterback. That's right -- he chose a freshman.
"If you had come up to me the year before and said, 'Would you ever start a freshman?' I would have laughed you off," Rollinson said. "I would have said, 'There's no way a freshman could compete at the Division I level or at Mater Dei High School.' But when we saw Matt, we realized he had the 'it' factor."
Barkley was launched on a football trajectory that figures to go higher and higher.
The Monarchs reached the Southern Section Division I quarterfinals his freshman year before Barkley suffered a broken collarbone. Without their leader, Mater Dei lost, 14-0, to Los Angeles Loyola in the semifinals. Barkley finished with 1,685 yards passing and 10 touchdowns.
In his sophomore season, Mater Dei finished 8-3 and lost to Long Beach Poly in the first round of the playoffs, with Barkley passing for 1,349 yards and 11 touchdowns.
After a summer in which he has grown to 6 feet 3 and filled out to 228 pounds, Barkley begins his junior season ready to do things not even Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart or former San Diego State quarterback Billy Blanton were expected to do during their tenure as Mater Dei quarterbacks.
"He's right were Leinart and Blanton were in their prime and he's got two years left to go," Rollinson said.
What was evident during the summer was Barkley's improved strength, accuracy and confidence. Aided by a veteran group of receivers, he has being given more responsibilities and greater freedom to pass.
"As a freshman, I was pretty new to the offense," Barkley said. "But two years of experience has definitely raised my level of play. I've become more comfortable each year."
Added Rollinson: "The maturity of his body has now kicked in. The best way to put it is he's now complementing everything with a great strength base. With 23 games of experience, knowledge of the offense, he's extremely confident out there. The velocity of the ball, the placement of the ball, sensing and knowing where people are at, reading coverages . . . he's at that level."
Barkley plays as if he were born to be a quarterback, and in many ways, it has been his destiny. There are photos and video of Barkley as a young boy passing a football to Mater Dei receiver Robbie Boyer, his cousin.
"I'm so close to him, I see all the extra work he does to get better," Boyer said. "I love hanging out with him. He's a mature kid, has a strong faith in God and follows his beliefs."
He also knows how to lead without having to scream or holler to gain someone's attention.
"I just love being in control, being a leader, just having the ability to go where you want with the ball and to command a team," he said.
Boyer remembers that first year when Barkley was tested by the older players.
"As a quarterback, he was trying to lead guys that were three and four years older than him, which is always hard to gain their respect," he said. "At the beginning, the older guys were questioning why a freshman is starting. But as the season progressed, he showed them what he could do."
Rollinson is placing his trust and confidence in Barkley to perform at his best this season.
"We're going to do what it takes to win, but that kid's right arm is going to carry us," he said. "The kid is a 4.2 student, he's a born leader and is everything you would want. He's dedicated, his character is impeccable. You'd like to bottle him and sell him."
USC, UCLA and California are among the colleges that have already offered Barkley a scholarship even though he doesn't graduate until 2009.
Since his freshman year, Barkley said, "people were watching me 24-7."
"I didn't want it, but I knew it was going to come, being a quarterback for one of the best teams in the country," he said of the scrutiny he receives.
Mater Dei has produced two Heisman Trophy winners at quarterback, which adds to the expectations of playing the position.
"It's kind of cool seeing how they've influenced Mater Dei," Barkley said of USC's Leinart and Notre Dame's John Huarte. "We have a Heisman Lane at the school."
Nobody has been so bold as to predict a Heisman Trophy in Barkley's future, but he's prepared to deal with whatever comes his way as his football journey moves full speed ahead.
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