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Matt Barkley's decision to commit to USC as a junior at Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) came as little surprise to those who know him. Barkley, considered the No. 1 high school football prospect in the Class of 2009, made up his mind up more than a year before his national Signing Day by simply telling his family and coaches one late January afternoon and calling USC coach Pete Carroll on his cell phone.

No press conferences, no hat shows, no limousine entrances in front of the College Football Hall of Fame.

"That's not him, there was not going to be a big splash," Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson says. "We simply called a few reporters and let them know and that was it."

Hours after making the decision, Barkley sat inside Mater Dei's Meruelo Athletic Center, reviewing game film on a computer by himself, wearing a cardinal USC sweatshirt he bought last year at a game. As he finishes up a conversation on his cell phone he thinks back to the call he made to Carroll earlier about his decision.

"Coach Carroll was in Alabama and there was a bunch of coaches in the car with him and they were so excited," Barkley says. "He said, 'Matty is a Trojan now,' and I could hear everyone in the car cheering."

One of the reasons Barkley decided so early, three weeks before this year's Signing Day, was because of the constant attention he was receiving regarding his visits and speculation that he would go to UCLA with the Bruins' hiring of quarterback gurus Norm Chow and Rick Neuheisel. In fact, the day before he made up his mind, Barkley visited both USC and UCLA, speaking to both Neuheisel and Carroll within hours of each other.

"Matt was festering a little and I could sense he was getting a little upset with all the talk," Rollinson says. "The day before he decided I was teasing him about it and I could tell it wasn't funny to him anymore so I knew he was ready."

There was little doubt that Barkley's heart was always with USC. His father, Les, played water polo at USC and Matt had let his family know of his intentions to become a Trojan as early as October but held off on making any official decision.

Undoubtedly, Barkley will elicit comparisons to Matt Leinart, the last Mater Dei quarterback to lead the Trojans, but those comparisons are nothing new to Barkley, who had to follow in the footsteps of Leinart and Colt Brennan and every day walks down Heisman Lane, which leads to the school's athletic center.

"I feel that I do have to live up that; the history before me and the expectations set upon me," says Barkley, who has boxes of Mater Dei highlight tapes in his room from the past 20 years. "I know all the great quarterbacks that came before me. I can name them all chronologically and tell you what they did."

What sets Barkley apart from his predecessors is his experience. Barkley was the first freshman to begin the season as a starter, and while the school has spawned an illustrious lineage of signal callers, none of them ever garnered the personal accolades that Barkley has before his senior season. After passing for 3,560 yards and 35 touchdowns in 2007, Barkley was the first junior selected as the Gatorade national Player of the Year and the first recipient of the Joe Montana Quarterback of the Year award.

"He is on track to be the greatest quarterback I've every worked with," said Steve Clarkson, Barkley's private quarterback coach who has also tutored Leinart, Jimmy Clausen, Ben Roethlisberger and J.P. Loseman. "Mentally he's already at a collegiate level and now he's approaching a pro level. We're actually working on pro stuff because that's where his mindset it. He's now training at two levels above his peers."

That advanced knowledge of the game has caused Rollinson to change his philosophy and allow Barkley to call his own plays, something he has never allowed a player to do during two decades at Mater Dei. "He has carte blanche out there," Rollinson said. "I've never done that before but we've tested this race car and it has passed every test; we know what this car is capable of doing."

Barkley first showed signs of his football acumen and ability to lead midway through his freshman season when he properly called an audible at the line of scrimmage after he saw the defense shifting to the strong-side where the run was called. As Rollinson saw the 14-year-old, who beat out three juniors for the job, audible out of the play to the weak-side, resulting in a touchdown run, he knew he was watching the birth of a special player.

"Your normal quarterback would have stayed with the original play. A freshman quarterback wouldn't have even thought of anything else," said Rollinson. "He had called the right play and the defense shifted and he knew what he had to do."

While Barkley is soft spoken and doesn't like to talk about himself, he's a different person when he steps in front of the team or preaches in mass. In those moments, when all the personal accolades and questions are pushed aside, he transforms into a preacher that motivates his teammates and even his coaches.

"He fascinates me," said Rollinson. "There's a part of me that has no doubts that he's going to be a preacher one day. I close my eyes sometimes and think this could be the crystal cathedral with 2,000 people. There is a sense of calm about him and it's in every sense of his life. He does not get rattled."

The one knock against Barkley, however, is that he has yet to win a championship during his three years as the starter at Mater Dei. It's a fact he's reminded of every time he walks through the football office and past the 22 league championship plaques that line the walls.

"I've got to win a championship," said Barkley, while looking at team pictures of past CIF champions. "That's the one thing I lack. That's the one thing I need on my resume. I need to win."

With that Barkley excuses himself to go to the weight room where he's scheduled to lift before returning to the meeting room to watch more game film. This is hours after committing to USC and nearly eight months before Mater Dei's season opener.

"We have to kick Matt out of here sometimes," said Rollinson. "He's constantly trying to get better and learn new things. Sometimes I wonder if this guy is for real. Could he be this good? But he is. He's the real deal."

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