Despite injuries around him, T. Jay Barber continues to lead by example
In an offense composed primarily of running plays, it's nice to have help in the backfield.
That said, Estacada's T. Jay Barber couldn't have felt more confident heading into the 2011 season.
The Rangers were returning their second-, third- and fourth-leading rushers from last season, all of whom were entering their senior year.
Then things went south.
Before the season began, the team's third-leading rusher, Garet McDonald, moved out of the area, leaving Barber and Marty Garcilazo to carry the load. Then disaster struck again, as Garcilazo was lost for the season in week one with a knee injury, leaving Barber as the lone feature back on a team that ran the ball 722 times in 2010.
Despite having carried the ball just 101 times as a junior, however, Barber is beginning to show he's capable of being a one-man show for the Rangers. In just three games, Barber has amassed 349 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.
But those gaudy numbers don't tell the whole story. His best game may have come as a result of his leadership in the team's 27-0 loss to Central. As one of the team captains, Barber took on the responsibility of mentoring the team's new quarterback who was replacing the injured starter.
'I tried to get myself as ready as I could and to help out the new quarterback because having a new quarterback out there, he has to make as many reads as he can, but he only had two days of practice before the game,' Barber said. 'So I tried to make it as easy for him as I could by also helping out the other running backs.'
While the team was shut out and Barber racked up just 73 yards, it was his actions after the game that cemented his role on the team.
As the team circled up in the end zone after the game to hear from their coaches who were still shaking hands with the opposing coaches, Barber stood up and took charge.
'I don't like going through losses because it kills me inside and it was all mistakes so I told them we need to focus more in practice because we can't be having these mistakes because we're a better team than that,' he said. 'I'm sure they all feel the same way I do, but I want them to know that I feel that way and that I don't want to go through that again.'
For head coach Brigham Baker, he couldn't have asked for more.
'It's refreshing to have a leader like that because it's something we've been missing over the past few years,' Baker said. 'To have someone step up and talk to the team, it's a lot better when they get to hear it from one of the kids first because they hear from the coaches all the time.'
What makes it even more impressive is that Barber did all he could to back up his words in the team's next game, almost willing the team to victory against Newport.
Despite playing one of the best teams in the state, the Rangers jumped out to a 20-14 lead at halftime before surrendering 32 straight points and eventually losing by 10. Barber finished the game with 175 yards on the ground and three touchdowns.
'Just to have one guy back there who is going to carry the ball a majority of the time and who has the body to handle that type of load allows us maintain our game plan,' Baker said, 'because he's aware that it's a one-man show with him carrying the ball. But he's not a guy who is going to complain about that because he is really confident in his abilities.'
While Barber is off to a hot start, he realizes things are about to get tougher.
As teams learn more about who he is and what he is capable of, they will begin designing game plans aimed to shut him down.
He's ready for the challenge.
'Starting (against Newport), they started to focus on me but I had a pretty good game so I think that defenses will keep looking at me as the main back and will probably have one guy who keys on me,' Barber said. 'I definitely feel the pressure, but I'd like to think I do better in that situation, and it pushes me harder on the field and in practice to focus on the small things to get better.'
As far as what Barber does when he isn't playing football, the answer is a testament to just how much he sacrifices every week.
'In my free time I mainly just ice and take care of my body because the running backs get pretty beat up back there, so I usually just try to relax and take care of my body as much as I can,' he said.
For Coach Baker, the off-the-field version of his running back is almost as impressive as he is on the field.
'He's just a really nice person, and I've seen him go out of his way to help people because he's a real caring person,' Baker said. 'He treats his friends, his girlfriend and his mother with a lot of respect. I'm really happy with him as a person, a student and a football player.'
Ultimately, Barber is the last in a string of elite Estacada running backs, and one Baker thinks might belong near the top.
'We've had one guy earn first-team all state honors and three earn second-team all state honors, and I think he has the potential to be just as good, maybe even a little better than the ones we've had. So it wouldn't surprise me one bit to see him on the first-team all state list, but right now it's tough to compare him with those guys because he is still a bit untested,' Baker said.
Estacada opens league play this Friday when it plays host to Gladstone.