By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — Keith Price has accomplished a lot during his football career, dating back to his days growing up in the Los Angeles area. He hopes to check off another thing on his list this weekend, when Price and the University of Washington football team face his longtime rival at CenturyLink Field.
The Huskies’ junior quarterback has been hearing about USC’s Matt Barkley for years, but Price has never beaten him when both quarterbacks were starting in the same game. This Saturday might mark Price’s final chance.
“It would be nice to beat his team,” Price said with a slight grin. “The thing is, we don’t play against each other. I’m playing against their defense, and he’s playing against my defense. But it’s a bit of a rivalry.”
Once co-most valuable players of the Trinity League in Southern California, Price and Barkley have known about each other for a long time. But they don’t actually know each other that well, and Saturday will mark only the third time that they’ve started in the same game.
During Price’s first year as a starter at St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, Calif., in 2007, the anticipated matchup with Mater Dei was canceled due to the wildfires that ravaged that part of the state. A year later, when both quarterbacks were seniors and on their way to being named co-MVPs of the league, Mater Dei sacked Price six times and intercepted him once on the way to a 35-6 victory.
When the Huskies shocked third-ranked USC 16-13 in 2009, Barkley was sidelined by an injury and Price was redshirting. The following year, Price served as Jake Locker’s backup but threw his first collegiate touchdown pass on his only play to help UW beat the Trojans in Los Angeles.
Price finally got his second chance to face Barkley as a starter last November, only to get knocked out of the game in the third quarter of a 40-17 loss.
Despite playing in the same conference for six consecutive seasons, Price and Barkley have had limited history in head-to-head matchups.
“I’ve seen him grow up,” said Barkley, a senior Heisman Trophy candidate and the possible No. 1 overall pick in the April draft. “I knew about him because we were in the same league in high school. … So I’ve seen him come up through the ranks.”
For the entirety of the so-called rivalry, Barkley has cast a large shadow on his fellow Trinity League quarterback. The former Mater Dei High star was the first junior to be named Gatorade National Player of the Year after the 2007 season and he was the most sought-after quarterback in the Class of 2009. Price, meanwhile, got a spattering of offers and was never really on USC’s radar — despite growing up in Compton and attending high school in nearby Bellflower.
Price actually had more impressive numbers than Barkley as a high school senior. He completed 71.5 percent of his passes with 24 touchdowns and six interceptions compared to Barkley’s 54.5 percent, 24 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. Still, he spent the year playing in the Mater Dei-turned-USC star’s shadow.
“Oh, yeah, definitely,” Price said. “Obviously, he got all the attention in our league. And rightfully so. He had a great junior year. He was a baller in high school, and he deserved all the attention.”
Price finally put himself on the national radar last season, when he set UW records for touchdown passes (33), completion percentage (66.9) and passer-efficiency rating (161.09). That breakout season gave Price, now a fourth-year junior, a chance to finally rub shoulders with his former rival. He and Barkley served as counselors at the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana over the summer, and they were also part of the Pacific-12 Conference Media Day in Los Angeles.
“He’s a lot more chill than I thought he was going to be,” Price said. “He’s a very good dude. A very religious guy. And he’s a great leader.”
Said Barkley of their interaction: “It was mostly just conversational talk. It was great to hang out with him and get to know him a little bit.”
While Barkley has forged a friendship with another former UW quarterback in Locker, he’s still getting to know the Huskies’ latest signal-caller. Saturday might mark the last time Price has a chance to beat him, and it will serve as a surprisingly rare head-to-head matchup among longtime rivals.
Price would love nothing more than to finally get a W against one of Barkley’s teams, but that wouldn’t change his feelings about his Trinity League rival.
“He’s a great guy, a tremendous leader, and he’s one of the best football players in the country,” Price said.