Huddle Up is a weekly Q&A with a Cardinals player on an off-field topic. In this week's installment, quarterback Matt Barkley talks about what life was like as the No. 1 high school football recruit in the country for the class of 2009.
Question: Do you remember when a college reached out to you for the first time?
Answer: Yeah, it was my freshman year in high school, after the season. It was a small school up in Washington, like Whitworth or something. That was the first letter, and I was like, 'A college is interested in me?' I had no clue. So that was kind of cool. My first offer was from Colorado when Dan Hawkins was there. They came down in person and offered me my sophomore year. And really after my sophomore year everything started flooding in. I under-the-table verbally committed my sophomore year to (Southern California). I pretty much knew where I wanted to go, so it wasn't that hard for me choosing. I still got a lot of letters and mail and coaches visiting. I kind of had to play it right and be nice to all the coaches because you'd never know where you'd meet them down the road – like Chip Kelly (his former Eagles coach) and whatnot – so I played it right but always knew I wanted to be at SC.
Q: What's it like being that young and having that type of attention, especially as a quarterback? Everybody knows who you are at 15, 16 years old.
A: I don't think I really thought much of it, to be honest. I just loved the fact that I was playing football and I was doing it at a high level. All the stuff that came with it, that's just the nature of the sport for anyone doing really well. And I mean, I came from a high school that already had two Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks (John Huarte in 1964 and Matt Leinart in 2004). They've got basketball players who were going D-I, like their whole top seven players. There was talent all around me and I kind of just blended in at Mater Dei.
Q: Do you feel like you were more ready for it, as opposed to a kid who wasn't at a school like that who got the attention thrust on him?
A: Oh yeah, it definitely helped. Mater Dei had a (sports information director) at a high school for all the (media) requests they do for football and baseball and basketball. That helped me, and my parents did a huge amount of help, just in speaking and knowing the right things to say, being assertive and being a leader. I had a lot of support around me when all that was going on and it helped me stay grounded. It definitely helped me get ready for playing as a freshman at SC and having all that media attention.
Q: If you have a son who has to go through something like this, is there any advice you'd give him?
A: My parents probably helped in this, but I didn't really have any 'Yes men' around me. I had people keeping me in check. My head football coach was kind of like (Bruce Arians) in that he'd lay into you when you needed it. My parents would keep me grounded and focused on what mattered. Football's a game that's going to be over one day, and you're going to have a family and a life. It doesn't mean you're not going to give it all you've got. I think I was given a lot of opportunities training-wise to be with good coaching, both at Mater Dei and the quarterback coaches I worked with. The coaches and my parents emphasized the work that had to be put in to get where you want to be. Nothing was really placed in front of me. They showed me what needed to be done, and I think that's important. I don't necessarily want to tell my kid he's going to be the best. Moreso talk about the work ethic that needs to go in to get where you want to be.
Q: Did anything at school change when your classmates started reading that you were the No. 1 QB in the country?
A: I guess I was popular on campus, but I was cool with everyone. We had a lot of standouts in every sport. We had a good football team but we never won a championship, and there were sports right and left around us that were winning (California Interscholastic Federation) championships. That will stick with me for a while. In terms of who I was, you get cheers and everything, but everyone was cool.
Q: You had these accolades early but you're still trying to find a role in the NFL. Does that keep in perspective how hard it is to do it at the professional level? You have to beat the odds no matter what?
A: Yeah, a lot goes into it. And to see someone like Carson (Palmer) and Drew (Stanton) -- Drew is almost a decade in now and Carson's longer than that -- they're guys who have just done it right. They know where to put the ball and they know how to be a leader. It's cool to learn from them, because I've never had someone to look up to, at Mater Dei or SC, because I was starting (as a freshman) and all the guys around me were either my age or a year or two older than me. It's cool to be in this position to see what they've accomplished and how they've gotten here. The work they've put in, hopefully I can replicate that down the road somehow.