Now, there are no player haters here. I certainly have no right to question Young for leaving school early for the opportunity to support his family for generations to come. But Young’s decision to turn pro should make every sports fan appreciate now-former USC quarterback Matt Leinart that much more. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORECoach Doc Rivers a “fan” from way back of Jazz’s Jordan ClarksonOne year ago, his situation was nearly identical. USC’s junior signal-caller was coming off a Heisman Trophy-winning season, a record-breaking performance in the BCS title game and was nearly certain to be the top pick in the NFL draft. Instead, Leinart elected to stay at USC for his final year of eligibility. Leinart’s decision was as romantic as it was rare – a superstar college athlete passing up certain millions of dollars for one more season of football and life at a university. Reggie Bush will soon announce his intention to leave USC, but who should question that decision? Or perhaps that of teammate LenDale White, whose stock likely rose nearly as much as Young’s at the Rose Bowl? As of Monday night, a total of 30 underclassmen – including UCLA’s Maurice Drew – have entered April’s NFL draft. It’s a list that might double by next weekend’s deadline. These young men are simply doing what every college student eventually hopes to do. They are taking the skills learned in school and applying them to their career when given that chance. Everyone should be so lucky. At the same press conference last year in which Leinart decided to stay, linebacker Lofa Tatupu made the decision to leave and enter the NFL. Some questioned the decision, but now he’s the likely NFL defensive rookie of the year. Tatupu made the right decision and who knows, Leinart might have been offensive rookie of the year. Those circumstances make Leinart’s decision to stay at USC even more extraordinary. The San Francisco 49ers took Utah’s Alex Smith first overall last year and signed him to a $49.5 million contract, including $24 million in guaranteed money. That payday would have been Leinart’s. Now, one can’t be completely naive. Leinart knew that with his injured left throwing elbow, which required off-season surgery, the 49ers might have passed him up. Perhaps he wisely knew that he would improve in his final season at USC, making him more likely to make an immediate impact in the league and therefore score with the real prize – a second contract. For example, Carson Palmer made an immediate NFL impact and earned that elusive second contract worth a possible $115 million, making the contracts of recent top picks Smith, David Carr and even Michael Vick look like chump change. But with Leinart’s decision to stay, there were no guarantees. He was not guaranteed to be a repeat Heisman winner. And he didn’t get it. He was not guaranteed to win a national championship. And he didn’t get it. He was not guaranteed to be picked No. 1 in the draft this year. And he probably won’t get it. Immediately after the Rose Bowl, an ABC reporter asked Leinart about his decision to stay in school, inferring that it was a mistake. Others have said that Leinart was outshined in the game and actually hurt his NFL stock. These people need their heads checked. Sure, Leinart made some mistakes in the Rose Bowl. He threw an interception in the end zone, had two other balls potentially picked off and took a couple costly sacks. But mostly, he was his usual brilliant self. Leinart was 30 for 40 with 365 yards, and threw just two incompletions in the entire second half and for all the praise Young has deservedly received, Leinart’s performance has been unfortunately forgotten. If the game were 30 seconds shorter, USC wins and Leinart is the star. If the game were 30 seconds longer, USC likely wins (or at least temporarily ties) and Leinart is the star. Instead, the game was a perfect 60 minutes, and Leinart is an afterthought. Leinart later expressed, “I have no regrets.” And why should he? Finishing third in the Heisman voting is not failure. Losing a championship game is not failure. Getting picked second or third in the NFL draft is not failure. In defeat, Leinart’s greatness should only be amplified. “Matt’s graduated. He’s going to get paid a ton more money than last year and he got to play for his college one more time,” USC coach Pete Carroll said after last Wednesday’s game. “I know he wouldn’t trade his experiences for anything. “He’s a living example for other people and that makes him a great leader, almost in a small way and icon in the world of college football and we’re very lucky we had time with him.” [email protected] (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2239 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! One week ago, Texas quarterback Vince Young was an All-America quarterback with a questionable future in the NFL. One All-World performance in the BCS Championship Game and Young’s NFL stock immediately reached Google-level heights. Young, a potential second-round pick, is now a potential second-overall pick and the college junior on Sunday declared himself eligible for the draft.