Big man on campus? Well, at 6-foot-4-inches and 250 pounds, of course he is. But there is much more to Matthew Barriga than physical size, which is significant, or football ability.
For one thing, this All-Angelus League senior lineman from St. Francis High School is an active member of the La Cañada school’s Link Team that helps freshmen get oriented to life on an all-boys’ Catholic school campus.
“Matthew is terrific with the younger students,” said Andrew Burghdorf, director of marketing for St. Francis. “He’s a gentle giant, really, who enjoys being of service at St. Francis.”
That also includes the campus LIFE Team that coordinates school Masses and other service activities, the Athletic Leadership Council, the Brotherhood of Christian Athletes, Latinos Unidos and Rose Bowl School Ambassador — all in addition to carrying a full load and a high GPA.
Add that to football practice and games and it’s easy to wonder: how does it all get done?
“Time management,” smiled Barriga, as he prepares for what should be an excellent gridiron season for the Golden Knights. “My family taught me to work hard, that nothing in life gets handed to you, whether in football or anything else. You need to keep working hard and stay focused, and seeing how hard my family works inspires me to keep pushing forward.”
Which is what the 17-year-old Holy Angels parishioner has done since he first played organized football in various San Gabriel Valley youth leagues while growing up in Arcadia. “I was always on the line, I guess because of my size,” he said, “but I grew to love the position.”
Barriga likewise embraced St. Francis, which he decided to attend on the recommendation of a friend.
“The academics, the brotherhood and the football team,” he said. “Coming from public to private school was different but not weird, and right away I liked how everyone treats each other. A freshman can go up to a senior with a question and get help without being looked down at. And the administrators and teachers are amazing.”
So is the football program, in which Barriga has thrived. “Coach [Jim] Bonds is a great coach, and all of the coaches and my teammates are awesome,” he says. “And we get great support from the school and community.”
A two-way starter and co-captain, currently playing left offensive tackle and strongside defensive end, Barriga was an important part of last year’s 9-2 team that lost its only regular season game to Angelus League champ Cathedral by a touchdown.
He was an especially key factor in a 24-21 win over La Serna, recording a game-winning sack in the final seconds.
“It was a great team win,” he said, “because La Serna had beaten us in playoffs two years straight, and we wanted to get over the hill.”
That kind of motivation is a driving force this year, he added, after having lost in the first round of last year’s Division 3 playoffs by a single point to Palos Verdes. St. Francis opened its 2017 season with impressive wins over Mira Costa (48-21) and Pasadena (42-0), and was the No. 7-ranked team in the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 poll heading into its Sept. 15 home game against La Serna.
Barriga looks forward not only to each game, but also having his family there. “My whole family, including a lot of relatives, are there and that’s a great feeling to know they’re behind you,” he said.
Dad Israel is director of corporate reporting for Paramount Pictures, and mother Maria is a teacher’s aide. Matthew is considering a career in business and marketing, possibly in the entertainment industry, where he could use his people skills nurtured at St. Francis.
“I like to reach out to people, talk with them and get to know them,” he explained. “I’m hoping to do that at college, and right now I’m targeting the University of Colorado, one of the Cal Poly schools, or University of San Diego.”
Is football also in his plans? “We’ll see,” he smiled. “Right now, I’m focused on this season, and on doing a good job in school.”