When AJ McCarron became a free agent, the Bengals brought in journeyman Matt Barkley to back up Andy Dalton. Barkley was drafted by the Eagles when Bill Lazor was the offensive coordinator in Philadelphia, and has bounced around the NFC for the past five years. He has only faced the Bengals once, in a 34-31 Cardinals victory on November 11th, 2015 as the third string quarterback for Arizona. So, Barkley met most of his new teammates for the first time when he reported to OTAs this summer.
There was, however, one player he already knew quite well: Vontaze Burfict.
Burfict’s Centenniel High School in Corona, California was only 25 miles away from Mater Dei in Santa Ana, where Barkley attended. Both were ranked the top prospects at their respective positions in the 2009 recruiting class and both had committed to USC. Naturally, the two would play against each other on the football field in high school.
Burfict was known for being a hard hitter all throughout high school, which Barkley would learn firsthand. In one of their two matchups in high school, Burfict charged into the backfield and hit Barkley at the knees after the quarterback had released the ball.
Needless to say, Barkley was not pleased.
Burfict flipped his commitiment to Arizona State in January 2009 right before National Signing Day. So Barkley and Burfict were division rivals instead of college teammates, ensuring at least three more rematches.
Leading up to their third and final NCAA faceoff, Barkley, then a junior, spoke with the Los Angeles Times.
“He’s a dirty player,” Barkley told Baxter Holmes of the Times. “His switch is always on. And it’s not a good switch.”
Holmes said that Barkley was “basing his opinion on what he suggests were efforts by the linebacker to injure him by diving at his knees during a high school game.”
The story came out three days before their September 24, 2011 game. While Holmes claims he reached out to Burfict, he says that ASU denied Burfict the chance to defend himself.
Bleacher Report’s Paul Peszko wrote this about the following game: “Matt Barkley may have won the war of words in the media, but Vontaze Burfict won the battle on the field.”
Early in the game, Burfict let Barkley know what he thought about the interview. He pointed at Barkley in what is now an iconic photo, emblematic of the attitude that Burfict reflected when he played. While many see this moment as typical Burfict antics, Burfict actually has framed this photo in his house.
Vontaze Burfict en su época con los Sun Devils de Arizona State ("amenazando" a Matt Barkley): pic.twitter.com/bdUoilnTuH— NCAA Football - Esp (@ncaafesp) January 18, 2016
Barkley’s Trojans suffered a humiliating 43-22 loss in Tempe to Burfict’s Sun Devils. But Burfict made what was probably the decisive play of the evening when he picked off Barkley in the red zone.
Barkley missed a chance to come within one score right before halftime, but Burfict’s interception on the USC quarterback changed the momentum of the drive. Barkley actually made the tackle on Burfict himself after Burfict’s teammate Colin Parker made a feeble attempt to block him. But the damage was done, and Burfict’s 36 return yards set up a Brock Osweiler touchdown.
Burfict, now satisfied, hopped up and immediately helped Barkley to his feet.
Burfict entered the NFL draft after his junior year, so that seemed to end the feud. Going undrafted (because of his many other incidents), Burfict signed with the Bengals and went on to become a Pro Bowler and starting linebacker. Barkley entered the draft the next year and was selected by the Eagles in the fourth round in 2013. Barkley has played for five teams at this point in his career, but he only met the Bengals once in his career and didn’t play in that game.
After playing against each other five years in a row from 2007-2011, they have not played against each other since and are now teammates in Cincinnati. Barkley shouldn’t be worried about practicing against Burfict, though. The linebacker isn’t likely to try any funny business.
Last November, Andy Benoit of Sports Illustrated asked Burfict about walking up to the line of scrimmage and pointing at Barkley back in college.
A high school rival of Burfict’s, Barkley had been saying things leading up to that game, and the Sun Devils linebacker wanted the QB to know he was ready. Burfict laughs recounting this. Asked if he still views Barkley as a rival, Burfict, striving for politeness, admits no. He’s moved well past that.
Barkley would probably say the same thing. The two have moved on to more important things, so stirring up some old animosity seems pointless right now. Since that they are teammates, that beef is probably squashed. But boy was it real back in college.