The adage says, “The work never ends, but college does.” For most of us “work” means five- to seven-page research papers, chemistry labs, or endless hours of reading.
For the past three years, Southern California quarterback Matt Leinart’s definition of “work” has entailed waking up in Los Angeles and breaking down some of the nation’s best defensive secondaries. Faced with the decision to leave behind a legacy for the ages at USC or jump to the highly lucrative “work force” of the NFL, Leinart came to a realization we all may come to at some point: College is the best time of your life.
Earlier this month, Leinart announced he would stay for his senior season with the Trojans despite speculation he would be the top pick in the NFL draft. Leinart, who had insisted since August that he would return, took some time after USC’s National Championship season to consult coaches, teammates, family, and ex-Trojan Carson Palmer.
In the end, Leinart stayed with his original decision.
“I realized the opportunity right now to support my family by going to the NFL early,” Leinart announced at a press conference. “But to me, I think college football and this whole atmosphere here and being with my fans and my teammates … is ultimately more satisfying and will make me happier than any amount of money could make someone happy.”
Leinart stamped himself as one of the greatest college quarterbacks ever by leading the Trojans to their second straight championship this year. He capped off the season with a record-setting performance in the Orange Bowl, throwing for 332 yards and a record five touchdowns.
He captured the Heisman Trophy over Oklahoma’s Jason White and freshman running back Adrian Peterson. USC is 25-1 in the past two years with Leinart at the helm. He is fourth on the school’s all-time passing list and second in touchdowns behind Palmer, his predecessor.
Looking at this list of accolades, it’s puzzling to figure out what Leinart has left to accomplish. But history has not been kind to previous Heisman-winning quarterbacks.
Since 1990, nine quarterbacks have won the award. Three remain in the NFL, with Carson Palmer the only one holding a starting job. One could make an argument that Florida State’s Charlie Ward was the most successful of the bunch. Ward is a 10-year veteran. Of the NBA.
So instead of the millions of dollars and hype and pressures of conquering a professional endeavor, Matt Leinart has decided to live up the college life for one more year, to try to win another Heisman and an unprecedented third straight national championship. To Leinart, risking a sub-par season or career-ending injury is nothing compared to living the college life and following what his heart desires.
While many of us are in college to achieve personal accolades and goals, Leinart’s decision is a reminder to enjoy our college years.
Because the work never ends, but college does.
Greg Otto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.