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Mater Dei's Barkley is Times' player of year Barkley downplays pressure

The junior quarterback earns honor after making big strides that also gain him national recognition.

December 26, 2007|Eric Sondheimer | Times Staff Writer

The 2007 high school football season may be remembered most for the emergence of Santa Ana Mater Dei quarterback Matt Barkley as a national talent with the ability to throw the ball deep or short, hard or soft, to the sideline or over the middle.

He completed 63% of his passes for 3,560 yards and 35 touchdowns in leading Mater Dei to the quarterfinals of the Southern Section Pac-5 Division playoffs. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound junior has been selected the winner of The Times' Glenn Davis Award as the most outstanding player in the Southland for 2007.

Besides his performance on the field, Barkley has a 3.9 grade-point average and is recognized for his strong work ethic and respect for teammates.

He has been a starter for the Monarchs since his freshman year, but this season was a breakout one in terms of velocity, accuracy, ability to read defenses and maturity to take advantage of his varsity experience.

"What I see in Matt Barkley is his deep ball dramatically improved, and it came in his third year of weightlifting," Coach Bruce Rollinson said. "We have another year in the weight room, and I'm excited about next year."

Barkley was the beneficiary of playing behind an offensive line that surrendered only seven sacks in 11 games -- none until the eighth game -- and having receivers who rarely dropped passes.

But his presence on the field and composure under pressure made him stand apart during a season in which there was outstanding play at the quarterback position, from Matt Scott at Corona Centennial to Dayne Crist at Sherman Oaks Notre Dame.

"He stepped up and got the job done," Rollinson said.

Barkley was selected as the Gatorade national player of the year, adding to expectations and pressures for next season, but he looks forward to the challenge.

"I don't feel any pressure," he said. "It's something to improve on. I'm just going to work as hard as I can in the off-season."

Barkley credited his offensive coordinator, Dave Money, for helping make his junior season so productive.

"Coach Money let it fly this year," he said. "He really let me loose."

Coach Troy Thomas of Trinity League rival Anaheim Servite said Barkley leaves nothing but a positive impression on and off the field.

"I think he's a real special quarterback," Thomas said. "I've seen him make all the throws, and he seems to be a high-character kid. You can tell his teammates care about him."

Barkley will soon start focusing on making a college choice. He intends to narrow his list of schools next month and make a final announcement before his senior year. Speculation has focused on USC as a leading candidate. Whatever decision he makes, he understands people will be watching.

"Mention my name," a teammate shouted before Barkley began doing an interview. "I got a concussion when you were on the field."

At a school that has already produced Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks Matt Leinart and John Huarte and has its own Heisman Lane, Barkley is more than holding his own.

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eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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