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USC's Matt Barkley, Matt Kalil, T.J. McDonald deal with 'mayhem'

USC quarterback Matt Barkley, tackle Matt Kalil and safety T.J. McDonald are weighing whether to enter the NFL draft, putting them in the eye of a social media-fueled storm of speculation and opinion.

December 12, 2011|By Gary Klein
  • Quarterback Matt Barkley might have called his last audible for USC. He and other juniors who are eligible might enter the NFL draft next spring.
Quarterback Matt Barkley might have called his last audible for USC. He… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )

Matt Kalil was sleeping soundly, the writing of a term paper his next priority.

Instead, Kalil awoke last week to what he called "mayhem."

A website, citing an unidentified source, reported that the All-American tackle was "set to return" to USC rather than turn pro, causing Kalil's phone and Twitter account to explode with messages.

Kalil said later in an interview that he wasn't close to making a decision — players have until mid-January to declare for the NFL draft —- but the episode illustrated the pressures and distractions that he and three teammates are facing as they decide whether to return for a final college season.

"I guess it was kind of a glimpse of what's going to be happening," Kalil said.

Quarterback Matt Barkley, safety T.J. McDonald and defensive end Nick Perry also are weighing whether to turn pro.

Coach Lane Kiffin and Athletic Director Pat Haden met with Barkley and the quarterback's parents last week and Kiffin plans to meet with the others.

Kiffin said no universal message would be delivered because each player faces a different set of circumstances.

"It's not pressure," Kiffin said. "What we try to do is get them accurate information."

Kiffin declined to reveal what he would say individually to each player. But he said general topics would include projected draft status based on conversations with NFL personnel, historical draft information such as the average number of players at certain positions selected in the first round, and the advantages of staying in school.

"A lot of times that seems like it's one-sided toward staying, but it's really not," Kiffin said. "It's just to counter the inaccurate information that they will all receive from other people."

Former USC coach Pete Carroll said he never discouraged players from turning pro if they were projected as the No. 1 player at their position, the theory being that a player could not improve his status by returning.

Kiffin allows that issues such as family financial situations and other factors come into play.

"When it's all said and done, it's, what do they want to do?" he said.

Barkley, who finished sixth in balloting for the Heisman Trophy, is projected as one of the top quarterbacks in the draft. Washington Coach Steve Sarkisian caused a stir last month when he stated that, were he an NFL coach, he would select Barkley before Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, the Heisman runner-up for the second year in a row.

But Luck remains the presumed No. 1 overall pick.

Barkley was serenaded by chants of "one more year" during a season-ending rout of UCLA, and was the subject of a petition by students hoping he would remain at USC. He has also received dozens of please-stay messages across social media platforms.

Kalil, projected by some to be the first lineman taken if he declares for the draft, said he has not been pressured by coaches. He added that he would not succumb to it anyway because of knowledge and support provided by his father, Frank, a former pro football player, and brother, Ryan, a former USC All-American who plays for the Carolina Panthers and is the highest-paid center in NFL history.

"The coaches know I'm not ignorant," Kalil said. "They'll support whatever I decide."

Students, though, have voiced opinions. "But not as much as [with] Matt, the star quarterback," Kalil said, laughing. "I'm a lineman. I'm used to not having the fame."

Like Kalil, McDonald is relying on a family member with experience: His father, Tim, is a former USC All-American who played safety in the NFL for more than decade. "My dad is not going to lead me in the wrong direction," he said.

T.J. McDonald met with Kiffin and Haden last week.

"They were extremely supportive," McDonald said. "They just let me know they understood there was a possibility I would leave, but if I wanted to come back they would welcome me with open arms and they would put me in position to succeed in terms of helping the team and individual honors and getting involved with the defense."

However, fans are trying to sway McDonald through social media.

"Not an hour goes by that someone doesn't say 'one more year,'" he said. "It doesn't bother me because I take that as a respect thing.

"Teammates don't do that. They understand what we're going through."

Kalil has said that he and Barkley would likely form a "double package" — both either turning pro or staying at USC. Barkley has it would be a "big factor" but not the clincher.

McDonald said he would monitor his teammates but make his decision independent of theirs, and make it before January so he could start the year with a clear vision.

Perry declined interview requests. The Michigan native, who led the Pac-12 Conference with 9 1/2 sacks, is expected to declare for the draft.

In the meantime, Kalil is bracing for more reports or rumors that could trigger another social media onslaught.

He looked on the bright side, saying, "I think I got a thousand new followers . . . on my Twitter account."

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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