Friday, July 20, 2012
To stay or to go
By Mitch Sherman ESPN RecruitingNation
REDONDO BEACH, Calif. -- The blond hair gives him away.
Matt Barkley, the preseason Heisman Trophy favorite and quite possibly the face of college football this year, often just wants a place to hide. When he's not dissecting another Pac-12 defense as USC's soon-to-be fourth-year starting quarterback, Barkley sticks on a hat and sunglasses and tries to blend in around Los Angeles.
The more he tries to escape, though, the more difficult it becomes. Barkley insists he's not a celebrity in L.A.
"There's too many of them," he said. "They're everywhere."
The fact of the matter is this: Barkley doesn't need to sit courtside at the Staples Center to fit among the A-list in Los Angeles. He's the superstar quarterback from Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei, a former No. 1 prospect in the ESPN 150 who has lived up to the hype, throwing 39 touchdowns with seven interceptions last season as a junior.
And it all comes with a burden. Around L.A. and Orange County, Barkley, even beneath the hat and sunglasses, nowadays can't get away from the attention.
His presence caused a stir Friday at the Elite 11 finals. Even among former NFL starting QBs, renowned coaches and a handful of other top college quarterbacks, Barkley easily turned the most heads.
Junior college and high school players there to play receiver and defensive back stared in admiration. Kids asked for autographs. Adults stopped him to pose for photos.
It's all part of the reason Barkley won't advise any of these young quarterbacks, without an understanding of their situations, to chase the fame and stay near home for college. With the accompanying pressure, it creates a sizeable burden. Just look at Barkley.
"I'm nice to all the fans," he said, "because, really, they're great, and it always trickles back through the airwave. But it can be another factor for these guys to consider."
Several of the Elite 11 finalists faced the decision this year that Barkley pondered in 2009: Stay home or go away to play? There's no easy answer, according to Barkley.
"You have to know, with the school you're looking at, how you fit in with that team," Barkley said. "USC was the perfect program for me. It happens to be where I'm from. At the time, I thought it was the best program for me to get a job after college, to prepare me for the NFL. I haven't changed my mind on that.
"But it's different for every recruit, for every school you look at."
Like Barkley, Elite 11 finalist Austin Allen (Fayetteville, Ark./Fayetteville) won't venture far to attend college. In fact, Allen already eats lunch on the Arkansas campus daily when he's in school.
His high school sits right up the hill from Bud Walton Arena. Allen's dad, Bobby, coaches the secondary for the Razorbacks. His brother, Brandon, is a redshirt freshman quarterback.
It wasn't exactly a tough decision.
Kingsland, Ga., quarterback Brice Ramsey knew as early as the eighth grade that he was going to Georgia if the Bulldogs offered him.
"After my high school season, I'll probably just go up to the U of A," Allen said, "walk in and learn the offense. It really should be that simple. I expect it to be a very easy decision."
Brice Ramsey (Kingsland, Ga./Camden County) feels no differently. Ramsey committed more than a year ago to Georgia. And though he lives a few miles from the Florida-Georgia border and received scholarship offers from Florida and Florida State, among others, the decision was easy for Ramsey.
"By the time I was in eighth grade," he said, "I was set to go to Georgia. If they offered me, I was going to take it."
Same goes for Michigan commit Shane Morris (Warren, Mich./De La Salle Collegiate), who pledged to the Wolverines in May 2011 -- before Brady Hoke coached a game in Ann Arbor.
Others staying near home include Asiantii Woulard (Winter Park, Fla./Winter Park) to South Florida, Jared Goff (Kentfield, Calif./Marin Catholic) to Cal, Shane Cockerille (Baltimore/Gilman School) to Maryland and Danny Etling (Terre Haute, Ind./South Vigo) to Purdue.
Davis Webb (Prosper, Texas/Prosper) to Texas Tech and Tyrone Swoopes (Whitewright, Texas/Whitewright) to Texas are also staying in-state.
But so many others took the road less traveled, notably Max Browne (Sammamish, Wash./Skyline) to USC, a Pac-12 rival to hometown Washington, and conversely, Troy Williams (Harbor City, Calif./Narbonne) to the Huskies.
Browne, the nation's No. 2-rated pocket passer, said he dealt with some anxiety after his April commitment, wondering how the people around Seattle might treat him for shunning UW.
Mostly, it's been OK, he said.
"I tried to be respectful throughout the recruiting process," Browne said. "I never led people on. I do get a negative comment here and there, but that's just because they like their Huskies. I think people respect me. They understand why I chose all that USC has to offer."
Williams had no offer from USC, but he could have picked UCLA.
"Out here," Williams said, "everybody just wants you to do good for yourself, because a lot of kids get on the wrong track. People are just happy to see me be successful and get to go to college for free."
Others are venturing far from home, too, such as Zach Allen (Temple, Texas/Temple) to Syracuse, Johnny Stanton (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif./Santa Margarita Catholic) to Nebraska, Cooper Bateman (Murray, Utah/Cottonwood) to Alabama and Joshua Dobbs (Alpharetta, Ga./Alpharetta) to Arizona State.
Few faced the scrutiny of Anthony Jennings (Marietta, Ga./Marietta), who picked LSU. Georgia was not among his final options, though he could have made things easier on himself by choosing a school such as Nebraska or Oregon instead of a UGA rival.
"I took a lot of heat," Jennings said, "but it's ultimately up to me and where I fit best."
And that's the point, said Barkley. Especially as a quarterback, pick a school for its fit, not the chance to become a hometown hero or a program savior from afar.
If you need to wear a hat and sunglasses to venture out in public, well, that's just a bonus.