In game loaded with stars, Barkley outshines them all

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Matt Barkley is a wideout's best friend.

The Southern California-bound quarterback not only possesses a powerful right arm but also is deadly accurate.
Whether he uses a three-step drop to complete a quick slant or airs it out down the sideline, Barkley (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei) can make receivers look good. That's the primary reason Barkley is one of the top-ranked quarterbacks in the ESPNU 150.

"There's no way he's over- or underranked; he's great," White team lineman Mark Brazinski said.

Barkley made it look easy Sunday as he led the White team to a 27-16 victory over the Black team at the 2009 Under Armour High School All-America Game in front of 25,382 fans at the Florida Citrus Bowl. In the opening half, Barkley threw for 151 of his 237 yards and a pair of long touchdown passes.

"The line gave me time, and the receivers were open," said Barkley, who will enroll in college later this week. "The biggest difference tonight was the speed of the defensive backs. I was able to adjust, though."

No surprise, Barkley was named his team's most valuable player after completing 11 of 22 passes and engineering four scoring drives that produced two touchdowns and two field goals.

"All week, [Barkley] was focused," said White team coach and NFL Hall of Famer Marv Levy. "He's a talent and showed it tonight."

Adding to the game's hype was the suspense of six players who announced their college decision from the field-side Burger King Lounge. The Seminole (Sanford, Fla.) High trio of Andre Debose (committed to Florida), Ray Ray Armstrong (Miami) and Dyron Dye (Miami) had the luxury of several thousand hometown followers cheering each proclamation.

Asked to describe his style of play, Dye proudly said, "I'm a defensive machine."

Others declaring included John Martinez of Cottonwood (Salt Lake City) to Southern California, Branden Smith of Booker T. Washington (Atlanta) to Georgia and Brazinski of Immaculata (Somerville, N.J.) to California.

Although Barkley was easily the star of the first half, the White defense was nearly as impressive. Linebacker Ronnell Lewis had a scoop-and-score in the second quarter, boosting the White team's lead to 21-6. Black team quarterback Russell Shepard felt the heat from Sam Montgomery of Greenwood (S.C.), who jarred the ball loose, allowing Lewis to return the fumble 24 yards for the touchdown. That wasn't an isolated incident, either. Accounting for Team White's constant pressure up front were Montgomery, Justin Chaisson (two sacks) of Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) and Craig Roh (one) of Chaparral (Scottsdale, Ariz.).

Oklahoma-bound Lewis hails from tiny Dewar, Okla. (population 919), which is approximately 45 minutes south of Tulsa. He played eight-man football for three years and 11-man this season, helping Dewar reach the third round of the Class 1A playoffs. Still, despite playing in one of Oklahoma's smallest classifications, Lewis was a defensive star and recorded four tackles (three solos).

"This is the level of play I'm expecting next year at Oklahoma," Lewis said. "My coaches prepared me well for tonight; the speed is noticeable."

The Black team kept the score close, but Barkley remained unflappable, shredding the zone coverage. He constantly looked off defenders, giving his receivers a little more space.

Late in the third quarter, Barkley's composure and guile within the pocket led to a 51-yard hookup with Keenan Davis of Washington (Cedar Rapids, Iowa). On the play, he pumped one way, then turned and fired to Davis over the middle to set up a 31-yard field goal by Anthony Fera of Pius X (Cypress, Texas) for a 24-16 edge. Fera, a Penn State recruit, added a second 31-yarder with four minutes left in the game.

Barkley set the tone for his team early. He needed just one play to give Team White a 7-0 lead on its opening possession. It was a perfectly timed quick slant with 11:54 left, and wide receiver Marlon Brown outraced the secondary. Brown compiled more than 1,900 receiving yards this season for Harding Academy (Memphis).

But there was plenty of firepower on the Black team, as well. LSU-bound Shepard connected with Debose for a 92-yard catch-and-run touchdown strike early in the second. Shepard, a dual-threat quarterback from Cypress, Texas, will enroll later this month at LSU. He rushed for 38 yards on six carries and completed two passes for 105 yards.

Greg Reid, a cornerback from Lowndes County (Valdosta, Ga.), was selected the Black team's MVP. He drew kudos all week from the guest pro coaches.

"If you think about it, the talent here was amazing," Brazinski said. "Where else do you get to do this? It was a great week."

Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA Today, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball and boys' and girls' basketball. He also worked for Scholastic Coach magazine, where he ran the Gatorade National Player of the Year program for nine years. Lawlor, a New Jersey resident, grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University.