Barber headed to Panther mini-camp

Published 9:04 am Thursday, May 12, 2016

For two days, Jared Barber sat in misery. When the NFL Draft ended, Barber’s phone did not ring on Saturday night nor all day Sunday.

But Monday was magical. Barber got a call from his agent. The Carolina Panthers invited him to their Rookie Minicamp on May 12-14. Now he is living every kid’s dream. He has a chance to make an NFL team.

“They said if I show up healthy and I can play and I look good, then they’ll sign me to a free-agent contract next Saturday night,” Barber said. “It’s crazy how much everybody is supporting me and rooting me on. It’s blown my mind. Everybody is so excited, and that gets me excited. I’m playing for a dream that I had when I was little. It’s bringing the community together in some sort of way, and everybody is anxious and that gets me excited to go out there and play better.”

Barber was a starting linebacker for the West Virginia Mountaineers. He fought through injuries and played for four defensive coordinators. After sitting out the 2014 season with a knee injury, he returned for a fifth year in 2015, finishing second on the team in tackles (64). He played in 44 career games and finished with 192 tackles and 20.5 for loss.

Barber got the big news from the Panthers on May 2. Since then, his phone has been going crazy. He found time for a 20-minute interview to relive the past four-plus months of training and working his tail off and praying and hoping for a chance to make the NFL.

“It’s been wild,” he said.

The 2011 Davie graduate’s journey to land an NFL opportunity began on Jan. 9, shortly after his West Virginia career ended. He traveled to Waukesha, Wi., to train at Nx Level. He was in Wisconsin until late March.

“It’s where J.J. Watt (of the Houston Texans) grew up and the place he trained while growing up through high school and throughout his college,” Barber said. “That’s where he trains in the offseason as well. My agent had sent clients there before, so he had a history with that gym. There were four of us with two trainers. They definitely got me as ready as I could have been for (West Virginia Pro Day).”

The West Virginia Pro Day was April 4. It was a little discouraging because Barber was slowed significantly by a pulled hamstring. He gritted his teeth and did what he could to show representatives from 20-plus NFL teams what he’s made of.

“I pulled my hamstring three weeks before Pro Day,” he said. “It really bothered me, so I couldn’t do any of the drills at all. I tried doing the 5-10-5 shuttle and I tweaked it again. It wasn’t ready, but I knew I had to try to do something. I tried doing that and tweaked it in the second turn. I thought my day was probably over.”

But Barber refused to let that happen.

“I told myself: You’ve got to at least show them something. You’ve got to show them that you want to play real bad. You’ve just go to push through it. If it pulls completely or tears completely, so be it. I don’t want to be overlooked, so I got through the positional drills with linebackers and fullbacks, which wasn’t easy. It was pretty painful. For the circumstances, I think overall it was a good day for me. I talked to several scouts afterward and talked to coach Mike Tomlin of the Steelers. They all said we appreciated you fighting through the pain and showing us you’re a tough kid and you want to play football.”

Barber remained in Morgantown, W.V., training and receiving treatment for the hamstring, until the NFL Draft approached. He returned to his Mocksville home for the draft on April 28-30. He was not drafted, which was nothing to fret about. His agent had been in contact with numerous teams about taking the free-agent route.

“I wasn’t expecting to get drafted because of my past injuries and everything I’ve gone through,” he said. “If you’re going to be a sixth- or seventh-round pick … Obviously it’s every kid’s dream to hear their name called and see your name come across the ticker. You might miss out on a signing bonus for 30, 40, 50,000 dollars, which would be nice, but once you’re that late in the draft you’ve still got to fight and really prove yourself once you get into camp. As a free agent, you can look at depth charts, what’s best for you and your best chance to make a team. So I looked at it as a positive.”

The draft ended on Saturday. That night and throughout Sunday, the phone didn’t make a sound and Barber’s spirits hit rock bottom.

“It was a rough, rough two days,” he said. “Two teams – I won’t name them – told me they were going to offer me a free-agent contract as soon as the draft ended. So I had a good feeling as soon as the draft ended that I was going to get a phone call. The phone never rang, nothing ever happened. So I started getting real worried. My agent was talking to teams and every team was scared of my injuries. I guess they went back and looked more into it after they had told me they were definitely going to offer me a free-agent spot. No team wanted to take a risk with my health history. I understand it’s a business. But it sucks because I’m as healthy as I’ve been in a long, long time. It was really frustrating. Saturday night and Sunday was pretty bad.”

On Monday, May 2, Barber enjoyed the other end of the emotional spectrum. His agent called with the news.

“Out of the blue on Monday morning, my agent facetimed me and said: ‘You’ll never guess who I just got a call from. The Carolina Panthers want you,’” he said. “I was just ecstatic. After two days of thinking nobody is going to pull the trigger and give me a chance, and then out of all teams the Panthers called. My agent did a heck of a job trying to find us a team.”

Barber has not signed the dotted line. He hasn’t made the team. But he has a chance, and that’s all he’s asking for.

“It’s still a little bit of a tricky situation,” he said. “They’re still worried about my health. So they do not want to sign me as of right now until I go through (Rookie) Minicamp. They want to see if I’m healthy and see if I can play.”

The May 12-14 Rookie Minicamp is Barber’s chance to make the team. He’s hoping to be a backup linebacker and have a role on special teams. He might get a look at fullback.

“I’m blessed to get the opportunity,” he said. “Whether I’m there 20 minutes or five years, just to get the opportunity is something I can’t take for granted. Most people don’t even get a chance to play big D-1 football and I’m blessed enough to get a chance to see if I can play in the NFL.

“If I sign a contract next Saturday, I’ll get a signing bonus, and from what I understand, they pay you weekly throughout the summer.”

Barber is one of the nicest guys you’ll meet. He has humility, work ethic and values. At West Virginia, he handled injury and health adversity with grace. He has a good heart and unsinkable spirit. At rookie minicamp, you can bet he’ll go and go and keep on going until he gets his way or until he’s told it’s over. He has the community buzzing. He has the county behind him.

“I’m planning on making it, continue to make it cut by cut, keep pushing and show them I can play,” he said. “If it doesn’t work out (with Carolina), I know my agent will be on the phone calling other teams and telling them I’m still available. If it doesn’t work out, maybe somebody else will pick me up. If not, it’s been one heck of a ride. I’ve had a great career. It’s been a blessing to play at Davie, at West Virginia and have a chance to play in the NFL. I’m going to take it day by day, week by week and cut by cut.”