MOST COLLEGE KIDS, at least to some degree, dread the resumption of school.
Dragging themselves out of bed. Trudging to classes on all corners of the campus. Pulling all-nighters with the hope of notching at least respectable grades.
And then there's Will Barker, star tackle for the University of Virginia's football team and a product of Haverford School.
School? Did someone say school? This semester, that barely computes.
Barker was redshirted in the fall of 2005 and, thus, has completed almost all of his course work toward a degree in anthropology. He's now taking just one measly class, in his major, and the time requirement is only 2 1/2 hours spread over 2 days per week.
The downtime will not be wasted. He promises.
There's a large picture here for the big-'un (6-7, 320) and Barker sees it clearly. While making 37 consecutive starts at right tackle, he has continued to blossom and improve and even become dominant, and some folks project him as an upper-round selection in next spring's NFL draft.
Yes, that's exciting. It's also back-burner material . . . Kinda.
"For me," Barker said, "it's all about getting ready for our Sept. 5 opener against William & Mary. That's where my focus is."
Such a mind-set is understandable. Team comes first. College comes before pro. But with such great possibilities looming not far off, it would be impossible, even unwise, not to consider them and prepare accordingly.
As Barker acknowledged, he could have graduated on time and eased into a postgrad curriculum. He purposely followed this path, though, with a pay-for-play future in mind.
"Our offensive line coach [Dave Borbely] says a lot of guys wait until their senior season to try to make a name for themselves, and to do everything they can to perhaps play at the next level," Barker said. "I've been trying to work at that for the past couple years, and now I've reached my goal of being able to really focus on football this last semester.
"When I came here, I wanted to play, of course, but I never saw myself starting for 4 years. I got thrown in there as a redshirt freshman and things didn't go perfectly at first, but it was part of the experience and I've come a long way since then.
"To be able to do this at a school like Virginia, and to play with and against guys who've gone on to the pros making millions of dollars, and to learn from them, I couldn't be happier. I definitely feel blessed."
To know that lofty o-line heights can be reached out of Virginia, Barker, a Bryn Mawr resident, needs only to reflect on recent seasons.
D'Brickashaw Ferguson went No. 4 in the 2006 draft, followed by Branden Albert at No. 15 in '08 and Eugene Monroe at No. 8 last spring.
So, how did this all happen? When you see that a guy stands 6-7, the immediate thought is basketball.
Though Barker did play hoops until about age 16, football and lacrosse were always his passions.
Lacrosse? Yeah, and it wasn't as if he had to settle for barely-out-there status. He was a 2-year defensive starter for powerhouse Fords' squads and, yes, he knows the required footwork and agility helped him immensely with football.
Defenders spent most of their time backpedaling, so it was no surprise that Barker's line-play strength became pass protection. Path-clearing is also now part of the process, thank you.
"No doubt lacrosse helped me," he said. "A lot."
To a degree, Virginia football is Philly South.
The Cavaliers' roster includes five players from our city leagues, thanks to quarterback Marc Verica (Monsignor Bonner), defensive backs Trey Womack (Malvern Prep) and Dom Joseph (Roman Catholic) and defensive end Justin Renfrow (Penn Charter) in addition to Barker.
"It's always cool to talk Phillies and Eagles," Barker said.
Bury oneself in anthropology? Not as much.
"I'm not planning on digging up any dinosaur bones," he said, laughing. "I mean, I've found this interesting, but I wouldn't be looking to make my career in anthropology. Just something I decided to pick when I had to declare a major as a sophomore."
Meanwhile, Barker's bio in Virginia's media guide describes him as a "skilled artist." Alas, we aren't talking Picasso II.
"I won't be painting any portraits of coach [Al] Groh," he cracked.
He continued, "Actually, I just took my first art class this summer. It was very interesting. I liked it. Makes me think what things would have been like as an art major . . .
"I have a natural ability to draw, and people find that to be pretty unique. It's not necessarily something I love to do, but when I'm bored you can find me drawing things. Mostly things from my imagination."
It's next April 22. Time for the NFL draft. What's it like to get picked?
Well, Barker won't have to imagine. *