Barr skips NFL fame, aiming for Heisman
LOS ANGELES -- This year, while UCLA is watching the NFL Draft to see where running back Johnathan Franklin goes, whether or not defensive end Datone Jones sneaks into the first round or if tight end Joseph Fauria is the sleeper that he is predicted to be, there will be one key player noticeably absent from Radio City Music Hall: linebacker Anthony Barr.
Barr, who's stock took off after a season of terrorizing the Pac-12’s quarterbacks, decided to stay and prep one more season at UCLA. The All-American who was the nation’s leader in sacs with 13.5 his 21.5 tackles for loss were also ranked in the top 10 nationally.
But it was only Barr’s first season at the position. And while many feel that his athletic talents are ready for the next level, he chose to stay based on what is already in place at UCLA. Barr is close with his teammates and wants to be a part of what coach Jim Mora is building.
“This team is coming a long way. We’re a lot further this year than we were last year and that’s exciting,” Barr said. “We have a lot of work to do but we’re going in the right direction.”
Barr’s goals are mostly team-oriented. Mora has instilled a selfless attitude in his team since his arrival and Barr has bought into that fully. But in terms of personal goals, he has just one: be the best in the country.
“This kid should have a phenomenal year,” Mora said. “I know that there is the Clowney kid and he’s a darned good football player but I’d put Anthony Barr up against any defensive player in the country.
“There’s nobody I’d trade him for, nobody.”
The “Clowney kid” Mora is referring to is South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney, a top defensive end who is largely considered to be too good for the college game but forced to play another season due to the NFL’s age restriction. Clowney’s highlights have become YouTube favorites and he is expected to be a top pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
But so is Barr.
“I don’t know why he wouldn’t go after a No. 1 pick,” Mora said. “When you’re 6-foot-4 and you weigh almost 250 pounds and you run under a 4.5 (40-yard dash) almost every single time you run and you lead the country in sacks within the first year of you playing a position, I think that should be your goal.”
Mora didn’t stop there, saying he felt Barr should be a Hesiman Trophy contender and that he wants the school to campaign for him.
Barr, who was sidelined because of a hamstring injury last spring, has benefited from a full season working with strength coach Sal Alosi. Alosi, whose notoriously serious demeanor has rubbed off on Barr at times, has emphasized upper body strength, speed and flexibility in the lengthy Barr this offseason.
But Barr says that work won’t go unnoticed. Clowney is now on high alert, as his position atop the college football defensive world is about to be challenged.
“I’ve got great coaches and teammates that push me every day and I work extremely hard,” Barr said. “I don’t think there’s going to be anyone that out-works me.”