Matt Leinart: College Superstar, Professional Underachiever
By Ryan Leong
Matt Leinart, QB, #7
Weight: 225 lbs.
Hometown: Santa Ana, CA.
College: University of Southern California
Experience: 7th season (first with Raiders)
Things haven’t gone the way Matt Leinart expected in the NFL after a stellar college career at the University of Southern California where he was teammates with Carson Palmer. He’s been plagued by injuries, mediocre play, and a fall out with his former head coach Ken Whisenhunt while with the Arizona Cardinals.
Leinart has been known for his Playboy lifestyle and his name appears more often in tabloids than it does in the sports pages. He has tackled celebrity women including Kristin Cavallari, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, and Blake Lively. Most recently he has been linked to bachelorette Emily Maynard in a sexting scandal. Leinart had a child with USC basketball star Brynn Cameron. The two separated before his son Cole was born but he now has visitation rights.
He began his football career at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Ca. In his senior year, he passed for 2,870 yards and 28 touchdowns. Against national champion De La Salle, he was 31-of-47 for 447 yards and four touchdowns.
In 2001, he began a storybook ride at USC under coach Pete Carroll. He would become one of the most decorated quarterbacks in college football history. A three-time All-American and the Heisman Trophy winner in 2004, Leinart guided the Trojans to consecutive National titles in 2003 and 2004.
In three years, his record was 37–2 as a starter. He had 807 completions on 1,245 pass attempts (a 64.8 percent completion percentage) for 10,693 yards and 99 touchdowns with just 23 interceptions. He is USC’s all-time leader in career touchdown passes and completion percentage, and is second at USC behind Palmer in completions and yardage. He averaged nearly 8.6 yards per attempt, and averaged only one interception every 54 attempts.
With numbers like that, he got a big payday: a $ 51 million six year contract with the Arizona Cardinals after a long holdout. At the time he was selected as the 10th overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, then-head coach Dennis Green said Leinart was a “gift from heaven.” But later, the Cardinals would have buyer’s remorse.
In his only season as the starting quarterback in 2006, he started 11 of 12 games, was 214-of-377 for 2,547 yards, 11 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He took over in Week Five, replacing Kurt Warner. His season was cut short on Christmas Eve when his non-throwing shoulder was injured on a sack.
The next year in 2007, he started the season as the starter but Whisenhunt began using him as a situational quarterback after the offense stalled. In October, a sack this time fractured his collarbone and that prematurely ended that season.
Leinart was given his job back in 2008 but lost it before the season opener to Warner after a poor performance in the preseason against the Raiders in which he threw three interceptions in a matter of minutes.
Finally in 2010, the Cardinals’ patience ran out on Leinart. While it was assumed he’d get the starting job back with the retirement of Warner, Arizona decided to go with Derek Anderson. Leinart was released two days after the final preseason game.
Shortly after he signed a one-year contract with the Houston Texans to backup Matt Schaub and was listed as inactive or the 3rd quarterback for the entire 2010 campaign.
In 2011, he was again the backup for Schaub, but a foot injury to Schaub in Week 10 paved the way for Leinart to make his return. In Week 12 against Jacksonville, he was 10-of-13 for 57 yards and a touchdown, but he suffered an injury to this throwing shoulder after a hard hit late in the second quarter and placed on injured reserve, ending his season prematurely for the third time.
Leinart has suffered three season ending injuries (2006, 2007, 2011) in his last eight starts.
He was signed to a one-year, $ 700,000 contract by the Raiders to backup Palmer and has not played this season. In his career, he has a 57.6 completion percentage with 15 touchdowns, 20 interceptions and a 71.6 passer rating.
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Ryan Leong has reported on over 2,800 games in the Bay Area since 1998, covering the Sharks, Giants, A’s, Warriors, 49ers, Raiders and the local college teams for radio networks and wire services. Having the best seat in the house to watch sports has been a thrill and Ryan still enjoys going to the games giving fans some insight and perspective on the players and coaches. His work can be found on Examiner.com.