When it came to Bryton Barr's college recruiting there was one number that stuck out.
It wasn’t 154 — the number of tackles the former Mechanicsburg linebacker registered last season. And it wasn’t 329 — his total tackles over the span of his junior and senior seasons for the Wildcats.
Instead it was 6.
As in, 6-foot isn’t big enough to play at the Division I FBS level.
“I’ve been getting that all my life,” Barr said.
Barr, who will play his college ball at Division I FCS Towson next season, will have a chance to prove those naysayers wrong in Saturday’s Big 33 Football Classic at Hersheypark Stadium.
But through three grueling days of practice, he’s learning doing so won’t be that easy.
Playing in a linebacking corps with FBS-bound players Mike Caprara (Woodland Hills/Pittsburgh), Jon Hicks (Palmyra/Connecticut) and Nyeem Wartman (Valley View/Penn State), Barr has had to work hard to stand out among the group.
“I’m back there looking up at my front line and I’m looking up at all of them,” Barr said. “They’re so big. I’m not used to that.”
Looking across the ball doesn’t offer much of a respite either. There’s 6-foot-6, 310-pound Rutgers-bound offensive lineman J.J. Denman and the state’s all-time rushing leader, Hopwell’s Rushel Shell.
Though Shell stands at a relatively short 5-foot-11, he’s shown already why he was so highly-touted coming out of high school and why folks in Pittsburgh are happy he decided to stay home and play for the Panthers next season.
“He’s definitely the real deal,” Barr said. “He’s big. He’ll run you over and the next time you turnaround, he’ll juke you. He’s just an all-around great running back.”
Rather than get awestruck by the bevy of Division I-talent he’s been practicing with since Monday, Barr has instead taken this Big 33 experience as an opportunity to learn.
Playing with the state’s best prep players against the best players from Ohio provides a unique opportunity for Barr to test his mettle against top-level talent before he heads off for Towson.
“There’s always room to learn,” Barr said. “All three of the (linebackers) are very good football players. I learn things from them and they do the same from me I’m sure.”
Though the players have had short time to get acquainted, Barr said things are jelling nicely for the Pennsylvania squad. After three practices Monday followed by two each on Tuesday and Wednesday, they’ve had plenty of time to get to know each other and learn the style of Blue Mountain coach Mike Brennan, who will head the team.
It’s a good thing for Barr that the practices have been so frequent this week, too, because he’ll be wearing quite a few different hats come Saturday.
In addition to playing outside linebacker, Barr will be on the PAT, punt return, kickoff and kick return teams, and he’s slotted in a backup position on the punt coverage team.
“It’s been busy, but I love special teams,” Barr said. “Ever since freshman year I’ve loved kickoff and running down the field to tee off on someone.”
With his may roles on the Big 33 team and his recent run to the wrestling state championships, Barr has had little time to rest since his senior football season ended.
But he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Though he admitted he’s a little worn out, the significance of it all hasn’t gone lost on the heady former Wildcat.
“I’m just very blessed,” Barr said. “There’s thousands of kids out there who would die to play in this game. To be picked is still surreal to me. I can’t believe I’m in this position.”
As one of only six players on the 34-man Pennsylvania roster who won’t be playing at the FBS level next fall, he plans to use that blessing as a chance to show which numbers truly matter.
“I’m gonna show them that I can play against Division I athletes and run around and make tackles like I did in the regular season,” Barr said. “I’m gonna show them I’m not too small. I’m just gonna prove to them Saturday night that I’m not.”