Former USC quarterback Matt Leinart was named as part of the 2017 College Football Hall of Fame Class in January, and he will be officially inducted during the 60th NFF Annual Awards Dinner Dec. 5 at the New York Hilton Midtown. He will be honored this Saturday with an NFF Hall of Fame On-Campus Salute, presented by Fidelity Investments, when the Trojans host Texas at 8:30 p.m. ET on FOX.
By Matt Fortuna, college football reporter for The All-American.
- Twice named a First-Team All-American, earning consensus honors in 2004 and winning the Heisman Trophy.
- Claimed Pac-10 Player of the Year honors twice and boasted three 3,000-yard passing seasons.
- Led the Trojans to three consecutive national championship games (2003-05), including back-to back AP titles in 2003 and 2004.
- Played for coach Pete Carroll.
- Becomes the 31st Trojan player to enter the Hall.
Matt Leinart has no days off, not after he decided to add another title, “Coach,” to a list that includes “Heisman winner,” “first-round pick” and “national champion.”
Leinart now occupies his Sundays coaching his 11-year-old son, Cole, in the game that has given him so much and that has now forever immortalized him as a College Football Hall of Fame inductee.
It’s a good thing those youth games fall on Sundays too, considering Leinart has been busy making a name for himself on Saturdays as a college football analyst for FOX Sports, in addition to a foray into real estate.
That Leinart has remained so involved in football shouldn’t come as a surprise. Nor, for that matter, should the fact he’s now a Hall of Famer. After all, he led the Trojans to two AP national titles, earned more hardware than he can probably count and had his No. 11 jersey retired at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Still, this honor was particularly meaningful, especially given the timing: Leinart’s mother, Linda, passed away from cancer in January, shortly after Matt learned he would be inducted.
“I’ll never forget the small conversation I had with her when I told her, and she was just really happy,” Leinart said. “So it’s one of those things I’ll always tie into: she passed away right when I was inducted. So it was pretty cool. Just an unbelievable honor, and then you talk about the guys I’m going in with, some of the best to ever play the game — Peyton (Manning) and (Marshall) Faulk — it’s incredible. It just really means a lot, and it’s a pretty awesome thing. I’m just proud to be a part of USC.”
Nothing speaks to Leinart’s love of college life louder than the southpaw choosing to stay at USC for a fifth year — after already winning both the Heisman and his second AP title. Though that campaign ended just short of history — Texas ended USC’s bid for a third straight crown in a historic Rose Bowl — Leinart has never second-guessed that decision.
“I just loved being in college,” he said. “Even now when I look back I don’t regret that decision. People ask me if I regret not leaving, and, man, I had the greatest time in my life, and no one can ever take that away from me. You look at the NFL, and the business side and all the injuries, just everything that’s happening, it’s like man, I would tell everyone to enjoy this experience. Unless you’re the No. 1 pick guaranteed, enjoy this experience, because you don’t get it back.”
While Leinart was on the wrong end of the aforementioned Rose Bowl, he was on the winning side of that 2005 season’s “Bush Push” game at Notre Dame. Those two contests are among the most iconic tilts in college football history. That, along with USC’s Orange Bowl romp of Oklahoma a year earlier to win the AP national title, is not lost on Leinart all these years later. Or lost on anyone else, for that matter.
“To be a part of that is pretty cool because as I get older people still talk about those games, and the people who watched us are now parents to kids, and they tell their kids,” Leinart said. “So I have kids come up to me who have no idea really who I am. They know I was part of the ‘Bush Push.’ The games I played in, my teammates played in, are sort of legendary for USC people.