By BRANDON WALKER
315-4476 | @BrandonWnwfdn
To the surprise of no one, USC quarterback Matt Barkley is on track to be a top pick in April’s NFL Draft.
To Barkley’s surprise, he has also been chosen as the top pick of eight finalists for the 2012 Wuerffel Trophy, an award given annually by the All-Sports Association of Fort Walton Beach to the college football player who best combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement.
Barkley, a finalist for the past two seasons, was informed that he was the winner by a phone call from the award’s namesake on Monday morning.
“I did not expect this,” said Barkley, currently in New York City for college football’s year-end awards. “This is quite an honor. I’ve seen the list of the past winners and there are some phenomenal guys there. To be mentioned in the same breath with those guys, that’s awesome.”
Past winners of the award, which was first handed out in 2005, include Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, Texas defensive end Sam Acho and Alabama offensive lineman Barrett Jones, who won the award last year.
Barkley, a senior whose career total of 116 touchdowns places him first in Pac-12 history, was chosen by the All-Sports Association’s Wuerffel Trophy committee over seven other finalists: BYU quarterback Riley Nelson, Central Michigan wide receiver Cody Wilson, Florida State kicker Dustin Hopkins, Georgia QB Aaron Murray, Kentucky center Matt Smith, Ohio State punter Ben Buchanan and Oklahoma offensive lineman Gabe Ikard.
In the end, Barkley was chosen for his dedication in the classroom and away from the field, where the Los Angeles native has worked tirelessly to make a difference in the lives of others.
The chance to hoist the Wuerffel Trophy was a surprise for Barkley, who did not know he was about to talk to Wuerffel when he was handed the phone Monday morning.
“This is amazing,” said Barkley. “Danny Wuerffel is a guy who has represented college football as well as it can be represented. He’s a tremendous human being and he’s probably the best example of what an all-around student-athlete can really be. It’s humbling.”
For Wuerffel, who led the Florida Gators to the 1996 national championship in his Heisman-winning season, the choice of Barkley was welcome news.
“Not only is Matt a phenomenal quarterback, he’s also an exceptional person,” said Wuerffel. “From the things he has done off the field to the way that he’s given of himself completely, he deserves every honor that comes his way. I’m proud to welcome him and he will be a fine member of the Wuerffel Trophy family.”
While his exploits on the field have earned him Heisman consideration and will ultimately lead to an NFL career, Barkley’s off-field contributions weighed heavily in his Wuerffel Trophy recognition. A fixture in Los Angeles, Barkley has worked with children from 17 local elementary schools around USC in a variety of ways, and he has volunteered with S.C.O.R.E (Service, Community, Outreach, Responsibility and Education, based out of USC), helping to encourage inner city kids with pursuing their education.
Barkley has also made an impact abroad. In May of 2012, Matt helped spearhead a trip with his family and 15 teammates for a week working in Sous Savanne, Haiti, building four houses for underprivileged families. They also brought with them 2,500 pounds of supplies for an orphanage in the village and spent many hours simply sharing time with local children.
That followed a trip he and his family took to Nigeria in December of 2010 to Nigeria, where their philanthropic work included construction projects while also bringing 1,200 pounds of much-needed supplies, hygiene kits, sports equipment, toys and Christmas gifts, all donated by numerous friends of the group.
Raised in a household that preaches faith and community service, Barkley has been the embodiment of both principles during his time at USC, where he has taken advantage of his popularity to help others.
“As a quarterback in college football, you have such a huge platform that you can use to help people,” said Barkley. “I remember looking up to guys like Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart when they were at USC, so I know how much kids look up to this position. That’s part of the reason I chose to represent USC, so I could fill those shoes and make a difference for children.
“Football is a passion of mine, but there’s a lot more out there. When you’re in a position like this, what you can do in the name of your faith is amazing.”
Informed of his win Monday, Barkley is now scheduled to pick up the Wuerffel Trophy at the All-Sports Association’s annual banquet, which will be held on Feb. 8, 2013 at the Emerald Coast Convention Center.