WVU football: Wins a welcome change for linebacker Barber
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Every time a video camera or an audio recorder is shoved in the face of one of West Virginia's football players these days, what inevitably follows is an inquisition about the ways the Mountaineers are dealing with the hysteria.
How are they handling their success? How will they manage the expectations?
WVU got so many breaks at the end of the regular season, had so much fun winning the Orange Bowl and have had so much time to revel in the memories that it's valid curiosity.
Just not for Jared Barber.
He's about as familiar with success as he is with missed tackles - and he made 529 tackles in high school.
Barber, a sophomore linebacker from Mocksville, N.C., played four years of football for Davie County High. His teams finished 27-25. The War Eagles were not what he would call a successful program.
"Not while I was there," said Barber, one of seven Davie County players to ever play major college football.
This ride he's been on since playing just about every snap in the 70-33 Bowl Championship Series bowl win against Clemson has been a welcome change.
"In high school, the record speaks for itself," he said. "It was not fun at all losing all those games, so it's been pretty nice to be on a high for a little bit."
He vows the win won't change the way he behaves in the offseason or performs in the regular season. He knows better. From third grade through eighth grade, he lost one football game.
It was the third-grade championship.
"They had a running back who plays college football now, and I don't know how big he was in third grade, but back then he'd be like Quinton Spain right now running the ball," Barber said. "He was huge."
That running back is Davin Gray, who grew up to be a 6-foot-3, 310-pound offensive lineman at Winston Salem State. Barber never lost again the following five years.
Then came high school and a crop of kids who'd almost never dealt with defeat had to handle a bunch all at once. Many had been spoiled by the experience and the expectations of victory growing up and Barber said that spoiled the high school squad.
"Honestly, we were stacked," Barber said. "We had a bunch of kids who should be right where I am. They should be playing Division I ball. But they got into some stuff and went down the wrong road.
"A lot of people took losing hard when we got to high school. Some guys quit and said, 'I'm not playing for a loser.' I think if we had lost some when we were younger, that would have helped us a lot. Some of the guys would have been able to handle losing."
That, Barber said, explains WVU's success last season. The Mountaineers suffered through and after three losses, but Barber believes each served a purpose.
"I honestly think losing can be 10 times more powerful than winning a big game," he said.
The Mountaineers lost 47-21 at home against LSU even though it was a 27-21 score in the third quarter.
Then came another 26-point loss at Syracuse, a team that struggled to score most of the season, but managed 49 points against WVU. The Mountaineers then had a field goal blocked and returned for a decisive touchdown in a 38-35 home loss to Louisville.
Without those experiences, Barber, who made 23 tackles in 12 games last season, isn't sure what happens for the Mountaineers.
"I don't fear losing, but it's definitely powerful," he said. "It's kind of interesting in a way. You don't ever want to lose. You want to win no matter what. It doesn't matter if you're playing checkers, you want to win, but eventually you're going to lose, no matter who you are. What you do after you lose, how you prepare for the next game so you don't lose again, is what matters."
Winning at this stage of his career isn't entirely new to Barber, though. In his senior season, Davie County was 5-6 in the regular season, but upset four teams in the playoffs and made it all the way to the Class 4A championship game.
The War Eagles lost 40-0 and Barber was again reminded about taking winning for granted. It's something he hasn't forgotten.
"The Orange Bowl was last year," he said. "This is a different team, a different defense, different coaches. We'll get our ring down the road and everyone will be happy and excited, but that was my freshman year. We're trying a national championship. I think we know better than to settle for just the Orange Bowl."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.