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Steinberg: Barkley earns praise

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Kosher Claus wants to wish all of his readers a very Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah.

My father wanted us to feel comfortable in a primarily Christian country and we were the luckiest kids in the neighborhood. We received presents for eight nights of Chanukah and then found stockings and more gifts on Christmas morning. I figured out later that my Dad really liked dressing up as Santa Claus and loved to give gifts.

Remember the spirit of the holidays — love, family, faith as well as food and presents.

One Christmas gift that came early to Southern California sports fans — except for Bruins — was the announcement that Newport Beach resident Matt Barkley had made the decision to return for his final year of college football at USC.

It is a testimony to the quality of his character and love for his school that he returned. This should be heartwarming news. But already the media is filled with critical commentary, questioning the judgment of a young man passing up untold certain riches as he embarks on a final year filled with risk.

With the advent of modern pass-oriented NFL offenses, the position of quarterback has become the most critical role in all team sports. History has shown that Super Bowl-bound teams with few exceptions, are successful with "franchise" quarterbacks at the helm.

A franchise quarterback is a player a team wins "because of," rather than "with." He is someone who a team can build around for 10 to 15 years. Think John Elway, Brett Favre, Troy Aikman, Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger. They made multiple Super Bowl appearances.

It is the hardest position in football to fill. It requires astute talent assessment and luck in the draft to secure. The developmental process in the first few years is crucial.

In 1999, Tim Couch was the first pick in the first round, Donovan McNabb was second, Akili Smith third, Dante Culpepper and Cade McNown were picked soon after — those players should be playing at a high level right now. None of them are on an NFL roster.

There is pressure to start a highly drafted quarterback in the rookie year because of salary cap limitations among other reasons. It takes time to develop field command and read defenses.

If a young quarterback doesn't have a good running game and defense and is forced to handle a complex offense he can commit multiple mistakes and have his confidence ruined. The media takes all of a month to judge a rookie a bust when it takes a number of years to develop.

For all of these reasons Matt Barkley would be taken near the top of the 2012 NFL Draft by a team that needs a franchise quarterback.

Barkley would excel in the postseason scouting process. He would light up an All-Star game, dominate the scouting combine, and teams would fall in love with him at Pro Scouting Day. He has outstanding arm strength, pinpoint accuracy, great field command, good mobility and all of the requisite leadership qualities.

The Oregon game film alone would have scouts drooling.

Barkley has impeccable character, strong speaking skills, and great leadership qualities. He improves every year. So when an NFL team is projecting the next 10 to 15 years of Barkley as its quarterback, it will do it with excitement and confidence.

He would have received a large signing bonus and given Andrew Luck a run for the money as a possible first pick in the draft.

Barkley knows all that, and he decided to return to USC.

That he would be criticized for a risky decision shows just how distorted values have become around sports.

Pundits are pointing out that he could be injured next year and never make it to the pros. Or he could have a mediocre year and end up lower in the draft like Matt Leinart.

Barkley knows all that and has made a heartwarming, inspirational decision based on his own value system. He clearly values education, the college experience, staying with his teammates and helping his university achieve more success above short-term dollars. He comes from a strong and grounded family and had the freedom to make a decision based on his own internal compass rather than a vote of football experts

This is the kind of young man that made us all sports fans in the first place. Fans have been dispirited by the perception that all athletes care about is money and fame.

Barkley is a shining beacon of good values and priorities. He is choosing to fulfill his scholarship promises and having the full measure of the college experience.

I have seen the influence that athletes can have as role models. I have helped them set up high school and collegiate scholarships and foundations that tackle causes they care about.

Barkley is making a powerful statement in a money-mad society about the ability to choose his own path.

Southern California sports fans have much to be happy about this holiday season — Chris Paul making Clippers relevant, Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson making the Angels a contender — but the most inspirational event of them all is Barkley's wonderful decision to return to USC for his senior season.

LEIGH STEINBERG is a renowned sports agent, author, advocate, speaker and humanitarian. His column appears weekly. Follow Leigh on Twitter @steinbergsports or blog.steinbergsports.com.

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