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Bryton Barr’s seven-year odyssey ends Saturday

  • UMass linebacker Bryton Barr holds on to the ball he intercepted in the second quarter against South Florida at McGuirk Stadium in Amherst on Oct. 6. Barr played his first collegiate game on Aug. 30, 2012 as a freshman for Towson. On Saturday, Barr will play his final game when UMass visits No. 5. Georgia. STAFF PHOTO/Kevin Gutting

Staff Writer
Published: 11/16/2018 7:34:34 PM

AMHERST — A remarkable 2,270 days after his first college football game, Bryton Barr will finally play his final one Saturday.

A career that began as a true freshman starter for Towson on Aug. 30, 2012 ends as a seventh-year starter at linebacker for UMass against No. 5 Georgia. In between those two games have been plenty of joyous moments and a fair share of heartbreak as well.

He missed most of the 2013 season after tearing his right pectoral muscle in Towson’s second game. A torn left pec cost him the 2014 campaign and a torn ACL sidelined him in 2015. He finished his degree at Towson and played for the Tigers in 2016 before making the decision to transfer to UMass, a decision he has never regretted.

“It’s been a long, interesting journey to right now,” Barr said. “I’ve enjoyed every bit of it, including the injuries, without them I wouldn’t be here, and I think transferring up here was one of the best decisions of my life. … If I had the chance to do it over again, I wouldn’t change it for the world. All the people I’ve met and all the injuries I’ve had made me a better, stronger person.”

There were moments during his three years of injuries that forced Barr to question if football was going to be a sustainable path. But Barr’s football career has been less about the sport itself and more about personal growth. He describes his career not by the number of tackles he’s made or the number of wins his teams have accumulated, but by the lessons he’s learned along the way.

When Towson coach Rob Ambrose was first recruiting Barr out of Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, he said the talent on the field was hard to miss. But what really struck him about Barr was what was happening off the field and in his mind. Ambrose, who said his first memory of life was about football, said he could not find a better ambassador for the sport than Barr himself.

“Bryton Barr is probably going to go down in the history of my life as one of my favorite college football players ever,” Ambrose said. “How he sees the game, how he plays the game, how he practices the game, how he represents it, ... I find it very hard to find anyone who sees the game — and it means so much to him — and represents the game as well as he does.”

“He’s got unbridled passion for the game of football,” Ambrose added. “It doesn’t take over who he is in his personality, but it’s clear it’s ingrained in every aspect of his cells that he lives his life like a strong football player. He wants to excel at everything he does all the time and he does it in a way that makes people around him better.”

Barr hopes his football journey doesn’t end Saturday against Georgia and that he will have a future playing on Sundays. Admittedly, Barr’s injury history might scare off some teams, but he also is far from concerned about what others think about his past. All the 24-year-old knows is that he’s healthy and he can make an impact for a professional team whether it’s in the NFL or in Canada.

“It’s been my dream to play at the professional level, whether that’s the CFL or NFL,” Barr said. “If you can play ball, you can play ball. They look for guys who can play and I’m confident in my abilities to play at the next level. I’m a realist, so I know I’m not going to be the starting middle linebacker for the New England Patriots, I’m going to be a special teams guy, I know that. But I’m definitely going to give it a shot.”

But even if professional football does not work out for Barr, he leaves the game with the most important lessons he could have ever asked to receive. He said his faith is stronger than it’s ever been and he’s faced enough obstacles to know he can conquer anything else that’s place in his path.

For the time being, however, Barr said he’s going to enjoy his final game for the Minutemen and let the chips fall where they may about his future.

“It’s taught me a lot of things, it’s more than just a game,” Barr said. “It teaches you how to become a man, toughness, you’re going to face adversity with losing, obviously injuries. I’ve learned a lot of things throughout the past 11 or 12 years I’ve been playing this game. This Saturday is my last guaranteed game. Nothing’s promised after this year. I’m just going to have fun with it. I’m not going to look back.”

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