Collegiate athletes are not supposed to turn into celebrities until they are professionals. Even then, most players wait years before they reach "superstar" status in their sport, and most never even sniff that designation. There are some exceptions to the rule however, and USC QB Matt Leinart is definitely an example of that. Who else on campus can say that they have celebrated victories with Nick Lachey, Jessica Simpson and Will Farrell?
On the field, the southpaw has been in the spotlight since his junior year at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif. After receiving a myriad of accolades before even setting foot on a college campus, Leinart chose the University of Southern California, and after two years of holding a clipboard backing up QB Carson Palmer (Cincinnati Bengals), he took over in 2003. With Leinart at the helm, the team didn't miss a beat, and he won the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year as a sophomore (the only other player to do that was QB John Elway with Stanford).
In 2004, Leinart led the Trojans to a perfect season, which ended with a blowout victory over the Oklahoma Sooners in the Orange Bowl, a game in which he won the MVP. Leinart also won the Heisman Trophy that season, finishing the year with the second-highest touchdown mark for a season (33) in USC history. While many thought that he would forego his senior year and declare for the 2005 NFL Draft to be drafted first overall by his hometown San Francisco 49ers, he decided to stay in school. Then again, if you were able to party like - and with - a rock star in between your ballroom dancing classes, why not?
This season, Leinart enjoyed another stellar year, finishing third in the Heisman voting. He threw for 3,815 yards (fourth in Division I-A) and 28 touchdowns while throwing just eight interceptions. While the year didn't end the way he had hoped with a loss to Texas in the Rose Bowl, Leinart still enjoyed a fantastic senior campaign.
While this may sound strange, getting elbow surgery before his senior season may have been the best decision Leinart made all year. Since he was unable to practice with the team on the field, he was able to spend all of his time in the film room. There, he watched defenses attack from different angles, both in college and in the NFL, while USC head coach Pete Carroll helped him refine his mind. This experience has really allowed Leinart to mature as a player, and if scouts thought he was ready to play at the next level last season, wait until they take a look at him now.
Leinart's ability to read and dissect a defense is almost uncanny. He is a fantastic leader on the field and the epitome of a field general. At 6-5, 225 pounds, he has the size to play the position for a long time. The Trojan has also exhibited great toughness, which can easily be seen with his game against Notre Dame, when he had a concussion. He has been productive whenever he has stepped foot on the field and is always there in the big game. He is great at hitting his receivers in stride, throwing it where only his target can catch it. While many attack his arm strength, his touch on his deep throws is fantastic. Off the field, Leinart is as cool as the other side of the pillow, and he would prefer to not be in the spotlight. One thing that can not be argued though, is the win column. Leinart has lost just two games at the collegiate level, (Texas and California), an amazing feat.
The biggest concerns scouts have had with Leinart are his arm strength and his athletic ability. He will be the first to agree with them, saying he is "not the most physically gifted kid" and he "won't scare anyone with his arm or his running ability." While this is true, it is safe to say that his arm is adequate enough to be successful in the NFL. Another knock on him is that he has played with a plethora of quality players at the skill positions, including WRs Mike Williams (Detroit Lions), Keary Colbert (Carolina Panthers), Dwayne Jarrett, Steven Smith, as well as RBs Reggie Bush and LenDale White. With all of these quality players surrounding him, he is bound to put up big numbers. He also played behind one of the best offensive lines in history this past season at USC, and he won't necessarily see that kind of protection at the professional level.
Though he was projected to go first overall in 2005, it is a different story for Leinart this year. While it is still a possibility, he will most likely not be the first pick this spring. The Houston Texans, who are currently on the clock so to speak, have a decision to make with QB David Carr, who is due an $8 million bonus in late February. If the Texans keep the former top pick, they obviously have no need for Leinart, but if they decide to let him walk or trade him to the highest bidder, Leinart could very well land in Houston. If not, newly hired New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton may decide to draft him to be the first franchise signal-caller in New Orleans since QB Archie Manning, or he could fall to the Tennessee Titans and former offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who currently holds that same position with the Titans.
In all likelihood, the Saints don't march in 2006 without Leinart as their new leader. Either way you look at it, Leinart is a sure-fire, top-three pick and is a blue-chip prospect.
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About Francis Duffy
"Fran Duffy has been involved in sports since he was a child. A Philadelphia native, Fran is obviously a die-hard fan of the Eagles, Phillies, Flyers and Sixers. Fran is desperately waiting to see his first major championship from one of his hometown teams. He is a Broadcasting major at Temple University and has experience on the radio as well as in television production. Fran also currently works with Temple football's video-operation's team and is an avid fantasy sports player. Looking for more experience in writing, Fran joined KFFL in the spring of 2005."
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