Former USC Heisman Trophy winner and BCS National Champion and current free agent quarterback Matt Leinart spent some time with HuffPost to talk about his career, the recently stripped Trojan title and his foundation work. He even dished on fellow QB Jimmy Clausen (from Southern California) and current USC QB Matt Barkley.
Have you spoken with coach Carroll since the NCAA announced it was taking back your 2004 title? What was your reaction upon hearing the news?
I haven’t spoke to Coach Carroll just because we're not allowed to, but I just think that the BCS and NCAA did what they thought they had to do, and okay, fine, but it had nothing to do with us on the football field. It has nothing to do with Reggie Bush's ability to play football and Coach Carroll's ability to coach and all of us players that season.
We won every game fair and square on the football field and I think people who understand football and have some type of common sense about it know that that's true. And unfortunately what happened outside of football -- you know that team got punished and the kids at USC are being punished now. That's the most unfortunate thing. I think I speak for everyone that was on that '04 team; why is the 2011 team being punished for something that happened seven years ago? Definitely do feel for all the kids at USC now and the program, but I know it'll bounce back.
We did what we did that year and I think everyone's moved on from it.
Have you spoken with Reggie Bush at all about it?
We're still extremely close; we don’t talk about it because it's not really a big deal. I mean it is a big deal but it's not something we talk about.
Talk about the event your foundation is doing July 14.
It's an event to help raise money for my foundation. It's a gathering of all my friends and sponsors. We bowl for a good cause, try to raise money for the underprivileged kids. The foundation website is mattleinartfoundation.org. It should have all the ways to donate.
With the lockout in full effect and a potential work stoppage looming, how have you been preparing for the NFL season, whenever it may come?
I've just been working out every day, throwing a lot; just staying prepared is the biggest thing I think for everyone right now. It's an interesting and kind of a different time for all of us; you know none of us have gone through this. Based on what I'm hearing, things are going to get done sooner than later hopefully, but until then, I think it's really being accountable for your own actions, going into camp or going into the season feeling good, being healthy.
What do you have to do in order to become a consistent NFL starter?
I think the biggest thing right now; I just want to compete, wherever I go or wherever I end up. I know that I can start in the league. I know that I can have success. I think it's just being in the right situation, and all I'm really asking for is a chance to compete. I realize everything hasn't gone according to plan or how I wanted it to, but I believe everything happens for a reason.
Me going to Houston last year happened for a reason, where I was able to learn behind a great quarterback in Matt Schaub, [head coach Gary] Kubiak and some of the great coaches there. It just helped me big time. It kind of helped me to re-focus and learn a new system and be around a different type of coaching style, which I really liked. This year, I feel no pressure; I'm going to go in, compete my butt off and want to play. That's the biggest thing you know; I want to play. I want to get that chance.
What teams have you spoken with and what's the key for you in terms of finding the right fit?
I haven’t really talked to any teams because of the lockout -- so we're not allowed to -- so that's kind of hindered this whole process for me, especially for free agents because there aren't talks between agents and teams. I imagine when this lockout is lifted there's going to be complete chaos. I just think you got to look at every opportunity.
If there weren’t a lockout and you're a free agent, you want to go to a system that can use your skills to your advantage, and there are some teams out there that I feel like would be a good fit. Right now it's just all about fine tuning my skills and working on things that I know I need improvement on, eating right and just maintaining so that when I do get an opportunity to go somewhere, that I'm ready to go and learn a system as fast as possible.
Your skill set caters to the West Coast Offense. Is staying in the NFC West in a system like a Seattle or San Francisco the best chance for you to achieve success?
I feel like I ran a similar type of offense in college under Norm Chow and when Pete [Carroll] was there, and obviously thrived in that offense. But it's weird you know; being in Houston last year, I really feel like I can thrive [there]. The offense in Houston -- there's definitely West Coast principles -- but it's a lot more play-action which I really loved. It all just kind of depends. Being a quarterback is definitely all about just being in the right spot, having the right guys around you and kind of catering to your strengths. Obviously WC offense was something that I've been familiar with. For me it's really just going in there and executing the plays and knowing what kind of personnel you have.
What's your take on Matt Barkley and what he needs to do to ensure success at the NFL level?
I think it's just continuing to get better and improve. I've thrown with Matt; I've known Matt since he was an eighth grader. The thing that Matt has is he's very cerebral and he's very smart. He's just very mature for his age. I mean he was a four-year starter at Mater Dei which is really hard to do, and then coming in at USC as a true freshman and starting [first QB ever to do so] and having success. I think this year his focus is to lead his football team, but he's got to ask himself, 'What can I get better this year that I struggled with last year?' and that's about just being a quarterback. He's light-years ahead of where I was at his age and I think probably any of us quarterbacks that played at SC. He's a great kid and he's going to be a good football player for sure at the next level.
And what about Jimmy Clausen? He's obviously in a tough situation now with the Panthers taking Cam Newton No. 1. Do you foresee him ever being a starter again in this league?
I think all he can do is just compete his butt off. Go into camp whenever it starts and just ball-out, throw great. You know it's a tough situation when they draft a No. 1 draft pick. I always tell myself to control what you can control. You know, he can't control anything else but him. The thing about football is, he can go in there preseason, play well, you never know what can happen. Just because [Cam Newton] is a No. 1 draft pick doesn't mean he might start right away. You just got to be ready -- be ready to play -- and I think Jimmy will do that.
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