Matt Leinart was technically at ESPYs week even though he never surfaced at any ESPYs events. He did, however, attend a dinner that Bacardi hosted for the Matt Leinart Foundation where he invited Adrian Peterson and Maurice Jones-Drew and few other close friends where he admitted he’s different from the Vincent Chase lookalike that entered the NFL and ruled college football four years ago. He skipped on a pre-ESPYs party to tuck-in his son, Cole, after the dinner and skipped the awards show altogether to take his son to the fair. In between sipping on mojitos, I was able to ask the proud dad a few more questions about the upcoming season.
On his motivation coming into this season after sitting on the bench, either hurt or as a backup, most of his career.
It has really motivated me. Sitting there, being hurt, not being able to be a part of the team, the pain is really motivating. I know how it feels to be out and it sucks. I’m 100 percent now and I worked my butt off to get to this point and now I just have to keep working hard and keep getting better and to be the best and too get to the playoffs and do all that stuff you got to put in the work that’s what I got to do.
On fatherhood and how his three-year old son, Cole, has changed his outlook on life
It’s a trip because when you become a father or a parent it puts things in perspective in your life. You just realize, ‘Wow, this is my son and I basically live for him.’ I don’t care about myself or getting things for me. Little things don’t matter anymore and you put him before everything else. He’s your family. He’s the reason why I wake up. He’s the reason why I play football. There really isn’t anything better than a father-son relationship. That’s the coolest part. I love being a dad and I love him more than anything. It’s so excited to see him grow up.
On what he’s learned about being an NFL quarterback despite not playing much
It’s been hard but experience is the biggest thing. With experience you’re only going to get better. You have to put in the work off the field on your own and study but the more experience you have the easier the game becomes and I’m getting there. At ‘SC, being in a system for five years and starting for three years, going into my senior year it was a breeze. It was more a situation where I was a coach and teaching the younger kids when I was leaving. That’s how the NFL is it’s just a matter of getting to that point. It’s difficult because the game is so hard but you have put in all the work and put in your time until you get to that point.
On dealing with all the attention he gets for his off-the-field activities
It’s difficult. It’s one of those things where I’ve come to realize that my life is magnified through the media in whatever I do. I’ve taken some hit and I’ve learned from my mistakes and I’ve learned from everything I’ve been through. I just try to understand that but also realize that this is my life and I’m going to try to have fun. I don’t want to have any regrets when I’m 50 years old and say, ‘Gosh, I wish I had done this or that.’ At the same time, you have to be smart about what you do, that’s the biggest thing because I am a person that’s out there and people look up to me and kids look up to me. But at the end of the day I’m very blessed. I’m not going to complain. I’m blessed to be able to do what I do.
On being misunderstood by the public
I think a lot of athletes are portrayed a certain way and you would just like to let people into your life for a day or two and say, ‘This is how I really am. I’m goofball, I’m a dad, I play video games, I’m a kid, I’m not what you think I am.’ But I like to remain private just because so much stuff is already out there. I don’t let a lot people close to me. I have my friends and I have my family and that’s all that matters to me.
On the Matt Leinart Foundation and partnering with the Make-a-Wish Foundation to grant 12 wishes this year as part of his Matt’s Magical Moments program
It’s really one of the things I’m most proud of. Just to be able to give back with my family and my brother. You have a vision to start out where you say, I want to help all the kids in the world, I want to help as many kids as I can, but it’s hard so I try and focus on the Southern California area where I’m from and Arizona, where I now reside an play football. You try and give these kids the opportunities that I had growing up. You try and give them things and resources that they would not normally get. It’s a very cool thing to be able to do.
On still being thought of as the Heisman trophy winning quarterback at USC
It’s been awhile now. I love ‘SC, I always will but when I go back there in the off-season I go there to work out and train and that’s about it. I had a lot of good memories there and a lot of great times in football with my guys but there comes a point where you got to move on and mature.
On living in the desert now after being born and raised near the beaches of Southern California
It’s fun. Phoenix is a great city. I love the city. Where I live is very secluded and very family oriented so I’m not bothered. I love the team and I love my friends on the team and the coaches. We’re a team that’s on the rise, we’re a good football team and it’s just fun to be a part of that.