Cody Kessler remembers it well.
The week of the Notre Dame game last year, USC's No. 2 quarterback in 2011 was warming up on Howard Jones Field before an early-morning practice when Matt Barkley came up to him, unprompted, and asked him a question he never expected to hear.
"Hey, do you want me to stay or leave next year?" Barkley asked Kessler. "What's your take on it? I'm just trying to take everything in consideration, you know."
Kessler, then a redshirting freshman, was shocked and confused all at once. He knew Barkley had to be at least contemplating his impending decision to enter the NFL draft, but he didn't expect he'd be so outward about it.
"It caught me off guard," Kessler said this week. "I was like, 'What?' "
Before he could answer, Trojans coach Lane Kiffin ran up to them and announced practice was starting. Barkley never brought it up again and Kessler never said anything about it, even though the two were roommates that weekend in Michigan City and spent plenty of time together before the Notre Dame game.
Kessler said he didn't want to distract Barkley from preparation for the Fighting Irish.
Then, two months later, he listened intently as Barkley took the stage at Heritage Hall and announced he was staying for his senior season. Kessler swears he didn't know until the moment Barkley told everybody else that the quarterback was staying, saying he stayed neutral until the decision came.
"I prepared myself for both outcomes," he said. "I didn't want to commit to him leaving or staying and then be disappointed if he stayed. It was kind of a bittersweet situation. You want him to come back and learn from him and he's such a great guy to be around, but at the same time you want to have your chance.
Kessler's chance will probably come this season -- if he again wins the No. 2 quarterback spot. Whereas last year Kiffin did everything he could to save Kessler's redshirt season, this year the No. 2 quarterback should see quite a bit of time for the Trojans.
Any time the Trojans have a blowout lead in the fourth quarter -- which could be a fair amount of times -- the backup will be in. And it could be Kessler or fellow redshirt freshman Max Wittek or redshirt sophomore Jesse Scroggins.
All three will be using years of eligibility this year, so all three will be under serious consideration for the spot.
"The best part about this year is that we've all used our redshirts," Kessler said after a Trojans throwing session this week. "So somebody's gonna get to actually play."
And that's actually a big change. It was an odd situation for Kessler to be in last year, to be sure. He was the backup, but he'd only go in if Barkley got seriously injured. If he needed a break or the game was decided, it wouldn't be Kessler but Scroggins or walk-on John Manoogian that'd go into the game.
But now that Barkley's back, he sees the benefit to using the redshirt year.
"When he stayed, that was the first thing I thought: I was like, 'Thank God I redshirted,' " Kessler said. "No one wants to redshirt -- everyone wants to play right away -- but, looking at it now and being smart about it, it's a great opportunity."