Will Barker: Mr. Reliable
By Raj Sagar,
Virginia Athletics Media Relations
When looking for the prototypical offensive lineman, there are a number of things that must be taken into consideration.
In addition to the intuitive size, strength and athleticism, dependability is a characteristic that is often overlooked. It is exceptional toughness and durability that distinguish the truly elite.
As the age-old adage goes, football games are ‘won in the trenches.’ It is in those trenches that fifth-year senior Will Barker has thrived-for 44-consecutive games.
“It really comes from just wanting to go out and play every single day,” Barker said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid injury, and since I got the job back in 2006, I’ve always been able to get out there on Saturday.”
Longevity is especially important when it comes to the role of an offensive lineman. A certain chemistry must be achieved between the five guys who work to keep their quarterback standing and open up lanes through which their backs run.
Throughout his years as a Cavalier, Barker has gained invaluable experience as he has worked side by side with a number of guys who have gone on to become first round selections at the next level. D’Brickashaw Ferguson (No. 4 pick in 2006), Branden Albert (No. 15 pick in 2008) and Eugene Monroe (No. 8 pick in 2009) are the most notable in what has become a long-standing line of dominant UVa lineman.
“Being able to play alongside those guys was definitely a privilege,” Barker said. “You are able to pick up on how those guys approach the game both mentally and physically, and then try and incorporate those things into your game. They were all incredibly hard workers, and by gaining experience with them, I have been able to develop certain parts of my game that have allowed me to be relatively successful for some time now.”
Upon his arrival in Charlottesville, it was not immediately apparent that Barker would become the cornerstone of the line that he has become today. In 2005, Barker weighed in at a comparatively frail 250 pounds. Though he redshirted his freshman year, it was his physical development that was crucial to his eventual ascension into the starting job. Those close to Barker will attest that he has since kept his gentle-giant demeanor, but it was the giant part of the equation was something that had to be worked toward.
“I was a bit undersized when I got here,” Barker said. “The coaches wanted me to put on some weight so my focus became eating, lifting and getting bigger. I put on 30 to 40 pounds that first offseason, and it put me in the position I needed to be to compete for the job the following spring.”
The spring before the 2006 season was a turning point in Barker’s career-it was the last time he was not the starting right tackle for the Virginia Cavaliers. During the 2006 season, Barker excelled at and secured his position on the line as he became one of three linemen to start every game of the season en route to earning second-team Freshman All-America honors from The Sporting News.
Entering the 2007 season, Barker had already become a fixture on the line for the Cavaliers while being known for his stoic, reserved persona. Though Barker and Monroe both can be understated and soft-spoken away from the field, their tenacity was largely responsible for the 35 yards per game improvement made by the Virginia running game from just a year prior. Barker, who prides himself on raw physicality, was second on the team with 44 knockdown blocks.
“I take every snap as a personal challenge,” Barker said. “Getting beat on the line sets the offense back, and doesn’t allow the team to go in the direction we want. I want to be physical and pound on someone every play.”
By 2008, Barker, in his commanding 6-feet-7, 320-pound frame, had made his presence felt and looked to take yet another step in his development: to improve as a pass blocker. Barker and the Cavalier line finished first in the ACC in allowing just 16 sacks all season.
“That was an incredible accomplishment for our unit,” Barker said. “You work hard in practice and in the film room to see that your quarterback doesn’t get beat up back there. To be able to finish first in that category is a testament to the work all five of us put in.”
Coming into this season, Barker’s 37-straight starts were 12 more consecutive starts-a whole season’s worth-than the next closest Cavalier. He certainly has become the prototypical offensive lineman, and he has earned the respect of his peers through his continued toughness and tenacity.
His accrued experience coupled with his ironman durability in trenches have earned him the respect of his coaches and teammates alike as he was named a captain for the 2009 season.
“It is an amazing honor to be named captain of this team,” Barker said. “I feel like I have progressed and learned a lot through my time in this program, and I love the fact that I might be able to pass those things down to some of the younger guys.”