Combine gives us rooting interest in Peyton Barber, who’s turned pro since mom is homeless

Auburn running back Peyton Barber (right) is someone we can all root for on draft week.

There are those college football players leaving school early for hopeful NFL dollars instead of getting their degrees.

And then there is Peyton Barber.

The Auburn Tigers running back declared for the NFL Draft after his sophomore season, despite not being expected to be selected in the first two rounds. In other words, he won’t be getting the mega-millions in signing bonus money or any guaranteed first-round contract.

Why not stay in school, advance toward a degree and possibly improve his draft status for next spring? He explained Wednesday at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

"My mother is homeless right now," Barber said. "Right now, she’s staying with her sister. It’s her and her three kids staying in an apartment back home."


Barber said his mother, Lori, never pressured him to go pro.

"I just decided to do what’s best for me and my family," he said. "It’s just a little bump in the road for us. We’ll overcome it."

What is striking is how positive he and his mom seem to be about the uncertain situation.

"Homelessness is a strong definition," Lori Barber told "Do I have a home of my own? I do not. Do I have a bed of my own? I don’t. Where we’re living is a little crowded, but we’re making it work. We’re taking our 50 cents and stretching it out to make it a dollar."

According to the Charlotte Observer, Lori Barber has been living with his sister — which was apparently the deciding factor as to whether or not Peyton would go pro this year.

Per an profile last week (h/t The Big Lead), Barber understands the long odds he faces — especially at the running back position, one that has seemingly been devalued in recent seasons — and called it "a tough decision, if not the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make in my life." 

The 5-foot-11, 225-pound Barber rushed for 1,017 yards and 13 TDs last season, solid numbers at a big-time SEC school. Barber, whose cousins Marion and Dominique played in the NFL, originally struggled with the playbook at Auburn because of ADHD and dyslexia and considered transferring after not winning the starting job in 2013 or 2014. But he was voted Auburn’s offensive MVP in 2015, although he wasn’t used as often late in the season as Jovon Robinson became a primary ball carrier.

The Observer reports that Barber’s ex-teammate at Auburn and close friend, Carolina Panthers RB Cameron Artis-Payne, inked a four-year, $2.45M deal after being a fifth-round pick a year ago. ranks Palmer 17th among RBs entering this year’s draft, and No. 256 overall — which potentially puts him in Mr. Irrelevant territory.

But to his family, he is quite the opposite. It’s a sobering reminder that some of the young men who play college football carry more than just boyhood NFL dreams — they also carry the hopes and burdens of trying to lift their families out of poverty.

Best of luck to Barber and his family.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

"I had about 20 minutes left to make my decision (before the deadline) and that’s when I decided to make my decision that I want to go ahead and come out."