LOS ANGELES - One Matt Leinart is the club-hopping playboy with celebrities for friends and college football history for the taking.
The other Matt Leinart spends most of his free time working out or at home, hangs with his steady girlfriend and is more eager to begin practice this week than the chase for even more fame.
"It's like there's two different people," USC's Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback said.
He'll let the public embrace the first perception that has generated a self-sustaining pulse via the gossip rags, Internet and talk radio. It provides a cover for the second, which is how he lives when the cameras and spotlights aren't creating an alternate reality for him.
If everyone expects to find him among the Hollywood elite in this week's hot spot, he quietly can go about the business of getting in the best shape of his life for what could become the most scrutinized season ever for a college football player and team.
"I don't think of what I do as celebrity-like or that I'm famous," said USC's quarterback, who will begin practice with the two-time defending national champions Thursday and continue his rehabilitation from offseason elbow surgery. "It's just the whole situation, the whole timing of being myself, winning, being a quarterback, playing in L.A.
"It's just all tied into how people portray me now. It's almost like it has its own life. My lifestyle being celebrity-like, it's so stupid. I don't even have a lifestyle. I'm just a normal guy who plays football."
Leinart, however, has played it better than nearly everybody in the country the past two seasons, led USC to a 25-1 record as a starter, passed on NFL millions to return for his senior year and will control a championship-caliber offense that could be even better.
He might not seek the attention, but he certainly is going to get it.
"The thing about the kid is he's pretty reserved," Trojans assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach Steve Sarkisian said. "Maybe outside of Kobe (Bryant), I don't know who's more recognizable in Southern California sports.
"And it's because he's played well. It's not some manufactured thing. He has earned it with what he's done in the biggest games."
True, what Leinart has accomplished on the field is remarkable. National analysts are starting to throw around the label of "most successful college quarterback ever" for consideration if he were to win a second Heisman Trophy and lead USC to a third consecutive national title.
But it's even more impressive that none of it seems to faze Leinart.
"I know why he's so grounded since that's how he's always been," said Leinart's father, Bob. "But, come on, it's amazing that he's still this grounded with everything going on around him."
On one July day in USC's Heritage Hall, he seemed far more into playing catch with the Trojans sports information director and a reporter than posing for another in a long line of magazine cover shoots. And though he was thrilled with the suit he bought for an awards show the next night, he reverted to form when he revealed that he was taking his mother, Linda.
"That's one of the great things about Matt," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "He doesn't worry about all that other stuff like the attention or the expectations - just getting better. That's what it's about here.
"It's fine if people outside the program want to talk about what he'll do or where he'll rank. We won't think about it a bit, and neither will Matt."
Leinart has answered the history questions so often that he can connect on his respect for former Ohio State tailback Archie Griffin - the only two-time Heisman winner - the way he hits tailback Reggie Bush in man coverage.
But his focus hasn't been on another December journey to New York. His travels this offseason mainly have been to USC for early-morning, three- hour workouts, though he did briefly venture out of the country. Of course, that strictly was a business trip.
Leinart spent four spring days in Vancouver with physiotherapist Alex McKechnie, who has worked with the likes of Shaquille O'Neal, Paul Kariya and Terrell Owens. Leinart spent time on his family's dime improving his left elbow's condition after his arthroscopic surgery and building strength to avoid a repeat of the hernia that limited him late last season.
He obviously learned how to play through the pain last season, but Leinart's limited mobility led to another perception he'd love to disprove.
"That's the only thing that bugs me," said Leinart, whose father said he is at 225 pounds with body fat of less than 10 percent. "People think I'm a terrible athlete but I can just play quarterback, like I'm one of those guys. I know I could prove them wrong easily."
He already has proved that his arm is far ahead of where it was a year ago, when he shut down most of the summer because of tendinitis. This summer, he has thrown regularly and even shocked receiver Steve Smith in an informal scrimmage against El Camino College when he overthrew him by 10 yards.
"Steve said, 'I didn't think he could throw that far,'" Bob Leinart said.
How far USC goes this season will depend in large part on what Leinart, Bush and the rest of the potent offense can accomplish in its first season since coordinator Norm Chow's departure to the NFL's Tennessee Titans.
Funny thing is, no one at USC is all that concerned, especially Leinart.
"I feel like we'll be better," Leinart said. "I think we'll be more efficient.
"There's a lot of people saying, 'If Chow leaves, then we're gonna lose a step.' There'll be differences, but we'll be fine. I don't see any drop-off. I can't wait to get started."
Leinart's improved health certainly will help, and Sarkisian and new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will run essentially the same system that USC used the past three seasons. Sarkisian's return to the program upon Chow's departure was key for Leinart's comfort and confidence since the two are friends and worked closely together before Sarkisian's one-year hiatus with the Oakland Raiders.
And Leinart's decision to remain at USC for a final season rather than jump to the NFL helped Sarkisian believe that the Trojans' transition could be smooth.
"There's a trust factor there with Matt," Sarkisian said. "A lot of times, especially when you get into a situation that's a little different or a little new like we have, it eases it a bit when you have that trust factor. ... He's going to be a coach and leader on the field."
Leinart spent time in the offseason breaking down NFL defenses at Sarkisian's request and hopes to be alongside Sarkisian and Kiffin as much as possible when they put together each week's game plan.
Even injured, Leinart almost certainly would have been the first selection in April's NFL draft and could have landed something close to the six-year, $57 million contract top pick Alex Smith signed last week with San Francisco.
But Leinart didn't consider himself ready physically and wasn't prepared to turn his life into an endless business venture. This season, he said, is about winning again and taking the next steps necessary so that he can succeed in the NFL, too.
"It would've been cool, there would've been endorsements, just the fantasy world of the NFL," he said. "You're making money doing stuff. But it's a business, too, and I wasn't ready for that.
"Now I'll play this season and I'll be out of here. I'll have to leave."
Before he does, though, he'll face regular Saturday examinations to see if he made the right decision to return, if he can thrive in a post-Chow offense, if he can live up to the immense expectations and if he has fallen victim to his celebrity.
"I told him, 'Hey, bud, I know who you are and you know who you are,'" Sarkisian said. "'You're in an area in your life when people are writing about you who don't know who you are. Right now, everybody wants to know what you're doing, who you're with and where you've been.'
"But Matt just wants to play football. He wants to go do what he does well. And if he does that and is true to himself, he'll be fine."
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