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Leinart grows up

Matt Leinart was talking about his own football league.

It's done through his foundation, out in Los Angeles, for inner-city kids ages 13 and 14. Two years old now, Leinart wanted a league that helped kids that 1) couldn't really afford to play the game and 2) might be too big or heavy to qualify for the weight limit to play in regular leagues among peers. The latter was an issue with Leinart growing up.

"It was unbelievable," Leinart said. "Last year was great, this year was even better, just by how much they grew and their attitude changed, kids off the streets from all over L.A. into young men who learned a lot. And they get to play football too."

What has struck me about Leinart is how much he has grown up, at least from what I can tell. I've been around him since he entered the league; there is little question there was part of him that probably needed to be humbled. He had the world by the tail in college. Who wouldn't revel in that? But the roller coaster his NFL career has traveled upon has changed him, as has fatherhood and, simply, getting older. Hanging around Kurt Warner – and watching how Kurt has dealt with his own ups and downs – probably helped too.

Leinart will always be a polarizing figure unless he morphs into a great NFL quarterback. He goes out to make himself tougher physically and mentally this offseason by training like a mixed martial arts fighter and many wanted to say he did it as a publicity stunt. I don't buy that. I believe Leinart genuinely was looking to better himself – it just so happens that the guy who does the training happens to be a TV personality who didn't mind putting Leinart's name out there to boost his cause. Leinart couldn't have handled the Warner re-signing (and the reality he was staying on the bench) any better, especially in light of the wretched way his fellow 2006 first-round quarterbacks – Vince Young and Jay Cutler -- have gone about their offseasons.

And Leinart still has perspective too. Will he ever become a great NFL QB? That's an unknown. But you see him smile talking about having an impact on the kids in his football league, and it's impossible to think he isn't personally on the right track.

"My whole thing is I want to give them hope," Leinart said, "and that it's possible to go from wherever you come from to where you want to go if you put your heart and mind into it."

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