Barber keeps alive tradition at Minnesota

Senior free safety Dominique Barber isn’t the first in his family to play at the “U.”

by Luke Middendorf

Although the Gophers defense has been often scrutinized this season, there is one bright spot that is usually found roaming around in the secondary.

That beacon of hope is found in senior free safety Dominique Barber, whose calm demeanor and consistent play on the field has been a reassuring presence for the struggling Minnesota defense.

Barber, a Plymouth native, leads the Gophers and is fifth in the Big Ten in tackles with 51, and has provided strong defensive play in every game this season even though the defensive unit as a whole has not.

As a full time starter for the first time in 2006, Barber gained a season-best 74 tackles, which he is on pace to obliterate this season. He has already had two double-digit tackle performances this year, as he picked up 13 at Florida Atlantic and 12 against Purdue.

This 6-foot, 210-pound free safety is the third in his immediate family to play football for the Gophers, as he is the brother of former Minnesota stand out running back Marion Barber III, who now suits up on Sundays for the Dallas Cowboys.

“We have a pretty good relationship,” a smiling Barber said about his brother Marion. “When he runs over a guy or makes a big play, I’m either texting him or calling him and just getting excited because I love watching him play.”

Maroon and gold has been in the Barber brothers’ blood from birth; they are sons of former Gophers All-Big Ten and NFL running back Marion Barber Jr.

In talking to the elder Barber, it was easy to hear in his voice the passion he has for the game of football, and especially for Gophers football. That pride has been passed down to both of the brothers.

“In my 30 years being involved with the ‘U,’ I have realized how rich it is in tradition,” Barber Jr. said. “It was a real treat for me that both of my boys were Gophers, but I can’t say that it was me that convinced them. They both wanted to go.”

Dominique Barber explained that junior defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg went with him to his father’s house on Monday to watch his brother Marion play Monday Night Football.

“My dad told us that when he was a junior here (Minnesota), that he had a coaching change too,” Barber said. “He told us that a lot of things changed, and that you have to overcome adversity. We have plenty of games left to do that, so hopefully we will.”

As a senior on this year’s team, Dominique Barber has been seen as a leader, and coach Tim Brewster said his free safety acts like a “mother hen” in the secondary, meaning he is always looking out for and taking care of his younger teammates.

“(Barber’s) got three true freshman in the secondary that he’s trying to line up and guide around,” Brewster said.

Dominique Barber said that another role of his on the team is to be positive and provide excitement on and off the field, which has been increasingly important with a rough start to the season.

“You can see it on the film that when we make a big play only a couple of guys are getting excited, instead of the whole (team),” Barber said. “I just try and keep my head up and tell the guys that there is plenty of time left.”

He also said that part of the problem with this year’s young defense is that the inexperienced guys are worrying too much.

“You’ve just got to go out there and play your game,” Barber said about what he tells the defense. “You’ve been playing (football) since you were a second or third grader. Don’t worry about what happens out there. Just go out, have fun, and play the game like you have since you’ve been playing it.”

With a 1-5 start to the season, his senior year has not gone the way that Barber had envisioned it so far. The veteran safety said that it has hurt, but that he knows he is not going through it alone.

“Yeah, being my last year and all, it hurts a lot,” Barber said with a noticeable pained look in his eye. “But I know it’s not just hurting me, it’s hurting the entire team. Me, being a senior, I unfortunately only have six games left. I know that in each of those six games I will go out there and give my best, and hopefully the best will happen.”

Barber’s father said that this season has been a great opportunity for Dominique.

“To me, sports are an opportunistic endeavor,” Barber Jr. said. “You have to understand your role, and know that the guy next to you is going to put out the same effort as you are. This is a character-building season. The players might not get their reward for their efforts when they want it, but they will be able to look back in the future and see where their hard work has taken this program. You have to think, is there anything else you could be doing with your time that’s better than football? These times are precious.”

Dominique Barber was playing last year as the Gophers made a late season push for a bowl game after not starting the season as well as they had hoped. He said that the same could happen this year, and that all it takes for change is a spark.

“Our attitude changed, and all it took was the click of a switch,” Barber said with excitement. “I think that it can happen again. Actually, it already started on Sunday when we had a corrections film session. We’ve got to get excited. There are six games left and there’s plenty of time.”

Although Barber concentrated mostly on football during his days at Wayzata High School, he was also talented enough to receive two letters for being on the hockey team.

“I just loved getting on the ice and being with that team that we had,” Barber said.

Dominique’s father also said that his youngest son, Thomas, just started playing hockey. But Marion Barber Jr. said that his 10-year-old is “ultimately waiting in anticipation for his chance to suit up for Minnesota,” and continue the family tradition.

When asked about his fondest memory at Minnesota, Dominique Barber seemed to look back into the past fondly, saying that there are many.

“The biggest one for me was getting to be on the field with my brother at the same time,” Barber said with a familiar grin. “Winning the jug from Michigan in Ann Arbor was the other big one. Thinking about it makes me want to bring it back again this year.”