Max Wants Matt's Spot

After USC quarterback Matt Barkley announced back in December he would play college football for one more year, all of Trojanland wrote off any other signalcaller until 2013. Redshirt freshman Max Wittek, one of three young arms behind Barkley, doesn't see things the same way.

After USC quarterback Matt Barkley announced back in December he would play college football for one more year, all of Trojanland wrote off any other signalcaller until 2013.

Redshirt freshman Max Wittek, one of three young arms behind Barkley, doesn't see things the same way.

"I'm going out there with the mindset every day that I'm trying to beat out Matt," Wittek said at one of the Trojans' players-only throwing sessions. "Because if I lead myself in the mindset that I'm going to be the backup that's not going to carry myself in the future."

Wittek doesn't want to be Barkley's backup, he wants to be the starter.

Now.

And while it's a lofty (and unlikely) goal, USC coaches have reiterated to Wittek, Cody Kessler and Jesse Scroggins that such a mindset is the one they ought to have.

"They just say don't be happy with the second spot," Wittek said. "You go out there every day and compete against the best. And right now the best is Matt Barkley.

"So we go out on the practice field and we look at him, we learn from him, both on and off the field, and we say 'alright, what aspects of his game can we replicate and what aspect of his game can we better ourselves in.'"

"We don't see him as some greater being but he definitely, the way that he carries himself inside of that hype -- the way he carries himself, the trips he takes, if he misses maybe a morning lift or something where he has to be on ESPN -- it's still humbling at the same time because you look at him and he's not the guy who is very celebrity or Hollywood."

Last spring, Wittek looked the most likely to redshirt. Scroggins seemed the heir apparent and Kessler somewhere in between. Oh how time has changed.

Now, Wittek looks more confident and consistent than ever. Scroggins suffered a thumb injury in the fall and confessed to apprehension and a distrust in his abilities in January. And Kessler is still a 'tweener, fans waiting to see what the athletic player can do but without the appropriate stage.

There's no real leader among the three, but their personal evolution in 12 months is clearly apparent. And Wittek, above all, seems to have made the greatest personal change.

When asked what word best described that change, Wittek said consistency.

"Not even in terms of just stats but command of the huddle and the way that I feel in the huddle, earning a little bit more respect each time you go out there and get it done, your teammates start to look at you as a leader and someone who can get the job done," he said.

When he first enrolled and even in early fall, Wittek admits he didn't know if his offensive line or surrounding group of skill players had the same trust in him as he did they.

"I'm sure anyone would say the same thing. They're kind of like 'what's this guy about.' But once they learn you and what you can do, they start to believe in you more.

"Now when I get in the huddle everything gets quiet and it feels better. They're listening to me and they believe in me."

Wittek said he believes in himself more because of the pure talent that turns his passes into touchdowns with a "single juke move or broken tackle."

"When you have players like Robert Woods, Marqise Lee and all these players surrounding you -- Xavier Grimble, Randall Telfer -- it's a home run play at any moment," Wittek said. "It's kind of crazy. At any moment the offense can score."

Despite the heralded players and five-star recruits surrounding Wittek, at the moment he brings his players together and calls his audible, he doesn't let them know he knows.

"When I first get in there I say 'shutup,'" he says with a smile. "You got to let them know who is boss."

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