Freshman running back Barber sparkles in his debut

Courtney Lewis

A soft spoken, wide-eyed 18-year-old stood wary but confident while reporters and cameras surrounded him after Minnesota’s 44-14 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette.

Marion Barber III, a true freshman, earned himself attention by making the most of his first start for the Gophers. Barber ran for 173 yards on 26 carries and scored the first two touchdowns of his career to set the tone for the Minnesota running game.

“It’s a wonderful feeling to have, coming out here getting a starting position, getting a chance to run the ball,” Barber said.

The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Barber produced right away as he carried the ball 10 times for 77 yards in the first quarter.

The running back by committee was paced by Barber and finished with 331 yards on 61 attempts with three touchdowns.

Barber wasn’t told he was starting until just before arriving at the Metrodome on Saturday.

He earned the spot over Tellis Redmon, who was originally slated to start, but was “demoted” by coach Glen Mason for not attending an academic counseling session earlier this week. Redmon was not made available for comment after the game.

Despite the first-quarter demotion, Redmon did play, splitting carries with Barber in the second and third quarters. He was given the ball only once in the fourth quarter for a 27-yard scamper. For the day, Redmon gained 95 yards on 14 carries while also returning four punts for 28 yards.

Also boosting the running attack was redshirt freshman Terry Jackson II. Jackson saw action in the first quarter, but a majority of his repetitions came in the fourth. He ran for 51 yards on 13 carries and also scored his first career touchdown in the fourth quarter.

“We continue to play a lot of young players for a variety of reasons,” Mason said. “Are they ready to play at this level? It doesn’t matter, they’re playing. They’re going to have to grow up in a hurry.”

The young running backs played ahead of Thomas Tapeh, who saw minimal action on special teams, but has yet to carry the ball this season.

“He’s not game ready to play,” Mason said. “I think when the game got in the situation it did, it was probably a mutual decision of, `Why play him now?'”

Tapeh refused comment after the game.

Barber said he was just happy he got to play, let alone start, and doesn’t think sharing time in the backfield is a detriment to the momentum of the running game.

“I think that’s working out quite well,” Barber said. “It worked out today, and we came out on top. I think it’s going to work well in the future.”

Of all the backs, however, the focus after the game was mostly on Barber.

“He did a good job,” senior wide receiver Ron Johnson said. “As far as being a true freshman, that’s a lot of work. I remember when I came in, that’s a lot to throw at you, but he handled it well. We’re pretty happy with that.”

Mason said Redmon would return to the starting role next week but Barber has now proven himself to be a solid backfield performer.

“I thought he did a good job,” Mason said. “He ran hard, held on to the football.

“He’s a fun kid to coach. He doesn’t say very much, but he works hard, and the way he runs he’s pretty tough.”