It’s Westwood, not South Bend, for Anthony Barr, UCLA’s new ‘F-back’
Here was a guy who could wake up some echoes. At least that was the expectation.
Anthony Barr was a top college football prospect who toted around so many Notre Dame connections that you’d have thought his family history was carved in the blarney stone.
He was born in South Bend, Ind. His father was a running back at Notre Dame. His uncle was a running back at Notre Dame. Another uncle was a Fighting Irish linebacker. His mother attended St. Mary’s College, just a punt, pass or kick across U.S. Highway 31 from Notre Dame.
His grandmother’s brother went to Notre Dame, as did two of his aunts. Or was it three? Barr is not quite sure.
But Barr does remember the assortment of Fighting Irish clothes, trinkets and other paraphernalia that made his bedroom look like a set from the movie “Rudy.”
Yet, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound freshman is in Westwood, not South Bend.
Barr chose UCLA over family tradition. One consolation: “We can still watch him beat USC and we’ll be very happy with that,” said Lori Barr, his mother.
UCLA football fans won’t have to wait long to become well-acquainted. Look for Barr at the multiple-purpose “F-back” position Saturday in the Bruins’ season opener at Kansas State.
The plain-as-the-gold-on-your-dome fact is that Barr liked UCLA. He felt comfortable there. And, he said, the idea of “creating my own legacy” was appealing.
“Someone told me they would have bet money that Anthony would go to Notre Dame,” Lori Barr said, laughing. “I told them I bet my son on it and I lost.”
Why Barr was high on so many recruiting lists is apparent at first glance.
“You don’t see too many kids who are 6-5, 230 and are as graceful as he is,” UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel said.
College coaches flocked to Los Angeles Loyola High to drop in on Barr even after he suffered a broken leg in the second game of his senior season. USC even took a shot, though Barr said, “With my family, I would have had to change my name if I went there. I would have been disowned.”
Barr was a wanted young man even though he was hard to define. He gained 1,890 yards rushing as a junior, but his size, speed and other considerable skills made him desirable at a number of positions.
“He scored 60 points in a game one time when he was 7,” Lori Barr said. “The park manager came over and said, ‘You guys can’t be in this league.’ ”
Norm Chow, UCLA’s offensive coordinator, saw Barr as a perfect component in the Bruins’ new “pistol” offense. The “F-back” position is a hybrid tight end-wide receiver-running back whose goal is to create mismatches.
“The one thing to keep in mind when he’s coming at you is, ‘He can run me over or he can run around me,’ ” UCLA strong safety Tony Dye said. “I’m glad other teams have to worry about bringing him down on Saturdays.”
That has always been a chore.
“The first time he played football, he was running with the ball, knocking kids down,” Lori Barr said. “It was flag football. Some parent came over and said, ‘That kid is going to play Division I football.’ I said, ‘You’re nuts,’ but inside I was thinking, ‘Yeah, I know.’ ”
Lori Barr was wrong, however, about where her son would play college football. Notre Dame seemed a given.
Tony Brooks, Barr’s father, rushed for 2,274 yards playing at Notre Dame from 1987-91. Reggie Brooks, his uncle, led the Fighting Irish with 1,375 rushing yards in 1992 and finished fifth in Heisman Trophy voting. Cedric Figaro, another uncle, was a Notre Dame linebacker in the mid-1980s. All three played in the NFL.
There are still Irish eyes shining within the family. Reggie Brooks is the manager of football alumni at Notre Dame.
Those are ties that usually bind generations. But Barr was concerned about the coaching change in South Bend after Charlie Weis was fired. “It wasn’t just the head coach, but the position coach I was close to during the recruiting process,” Barr said.
Still, the tug was strong.
Barr’s family left South Bend when he was a baby but often returned to go to games and “before he could even crawl, he had a Notre Dame football with him in his crib,” Lori Barr said.
Neuheisel had the right pitch.
“You understand and admire that there is a great allegiance to their alma mater,” Neuheisel said. “But is it right for the kid? If it is, then certainly we wish him well. If it isn’t, then I have a program for him.”
Barr liked Neuheisel’s alternative. He wanted to stay in Los Angeles, and the other major-college football program in town was not an option.
“This was his decision and I respect that,” Lori Barr said. “I was a kid who grew up in a Notre Dame home. I wanted that for my own child. But I had my life. This is his life.”
Anthony Barr simply decided he belonged under a different gold helmet.
“I love Notre Dame and I’ll continue to follow them and cheer for them,” Barr said. “But right now I’m a Bruin, and happy to be one.”