Leinart: `No regrets about coming back'

Aug. 2, 2005

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Matt Leinart had a million reasons to pass up his final year of eligibility at USC. Maybe 10 million reasons.

'I did see what Alex Smith signed for and that was some pretty cool numbers,' said Leinart, the Trojans' Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback.

USC coach Pete Carroll, seated beside Leinart on the podium at Tuesday's Pac-10 media day, shook his head and joked, 'Yeah, pretty cool numbers.'

Smith, also a quarterback, passed up his senior season at Utah and signed a six-year, $49.5 million contract with San Francisco as the first player taken in this year's NFL draft.

Leinart still likes his decision to remain in college another year.

'I have no complaints about how I'm living right now. I'm happy and I have no regrets about coming back,' he said.

With a comic's sense of timing, he paused, then finally grinned and added, 'But it would be nice to have that kind of money.'

Leinart, who grew a beard over the summer and looks quite Lincoln-esque, and the two-time defending national champion Trojans open practice this week to get ready for what could be a run at an unprecedented third consecutive title. No team has finished atop The Associated Press rankings three straight years.

Carroll, however, said that is not even on the team's radar right now.

'We can't focus on the end of the season or the rankings or the BCS bidding,' he said. 'Things like that are somewhere down the road.

'To put any focus on that now is just a waste of time. Our guys know we can't do anything about that now.'

Leinart said he's fine after undergoing surgery for tendinitis in his throwing (left) elbow in January. He missed spring practice.

'I feel really good. I'm anxious to get back, feels like I've been out forever,' he said.

After leading USC to its second consecutive national championship, winning the Heisman, then deciding to return for his senior season, Leinart has achieved celebrity status - not that he wants it.

He mentioned meeting, among others this summer, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and a string of sports stars. He was particularly impressed by meeting Maria Sharapova, saying, 'That was sweet.'

'That lifestyle's not really me, but I do have fun,' Leinart said. 'I'm living like an NFL player right now, but in college life in L.A. I'm just a normal kid who has had opportunities to do a lot more things than other people would.

'It all hasn't really hit me. I don't think it will really hit me until I'm 95 or so.'

Then there's the beard.

'That might be my new thing this year, a beard,' Leinart joked. 'No, it's part lazy, part that I've never been able to grow a beard like this. Mostly laziness, though.'

Carroll said he wouldn't object to the quarterback sporting a beard, 'So long as it doesn't hang below his helmet.'

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