Barber will forgo senior season

Running back Marion Barber III was primed to break several school rushing records.

Ben Goessling

After a record-setting season, Minnesota’s football team won’t have the same backfield for an encore performance.

With his parents, brother and Athletics Director Joel Maturi in attendance, junior running back Marion Barber III announced Saturday he would declare for the NFL Draft, passing up his senior year and a chance to set the Gophers’ career rushing record.

Barber, who teamed with Laurence Maroney to give Minnesota the first pair of running backs ever to both run for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons, said he “listened to both sides of the coin” before making his decision.

“I’ve been able to take a good, close look at what’s ahead and really think about it,” he said. “It wasn’t just something that popped in my mind.”

He leaves as the third-leading rusher in Minnesota history, having totaled 3,275 yards in three seasons.

Barber, who is also second in touchdowns with 35, was within striking distance of Darrell Thompson for both records. But while he said “records are a beautiful thing to break,” he added they did not play a part in his decision.

In a draft that includes Texas’ Cedric Benson, California’s J.J. Arrington and the Auburn duo of Ronnie Brown and Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, among

others, Barber figures to be a second-round pick at best.

He petitioned the NFL College Advisory Committee, a service that helps underclassmen project their draft statuses; however, he and Minnesota coach Glen Mason declined to reveal the committee’s findings.

Barber said that he will take part in the NFL scouting combine in March. He has not hired an agent yet and has until today to change his mind – provided he does not sign an agent.

However, Barber said he has no plans of reversing his decision.

Barber’s departure leaves Maroney as the Gophers’ top running back, although Gary Russell figures to see increased time as a sophomore. Minnesota moved Amir Pinnix to defensive back before the Music City Bowl, but co-offensive coordinator Mitch Browning said the Gophers have no intentions of immediately returning Pinnix to his original position.

“I think Laurence can be a feature back with maturity,” Browning said. “But you need more than one running back in our offense.”

Mason said Barber consulted him about whether to declare for the draft and added he was “humbled” that Barber would ask.

“I have mixed emotions. Selfishly, who wouldn’t want

Marion Barber back on your football team?” Mason said. “But I want what’s best for him.”

Barber, lightly recruited out of Wayzata High School and initially projected as a defensive back for the Gophers, leaves as one of the biggest success stories in Mason’s eight years at Minnesota.

He ran for 742 yards as a freshman, and after redshirting the 2002 season with a hamstring injury, he came back to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors in 2003.

Barber said Maroney called him Friday to ask what he was going to do.

“He was shocked,” Barber said. “Initially, I wasn’t going to tell him, but he asked, and I couldn’t lie to my man.”