Thomas Barber adds to family esteem with his linebacker play

Thomas has one interception and two forced fumbles this year.

Linebacker Thomas Barber runs to intercept the ball carrier on Sept. 30 at TCF Bank Stadium.

Jack Rodgers, Daily File Photo

Linebacker Thomas Barber runs to intercept the ball carrier on Sept. 30 at TCF Bank Stadium.

Jack Warrick

Like his brothers and father before him, Thomas Barber is shining with the Gophers.

Barber, a sophomore linebacker, leads the Gophers defense with 52 tackles this year. He had 16 in last week’s game against No. 18 Michigan State.

Barber is the son of Marion Barber Jr. and brother of Dominique Barber and Marion Barber III. All three played for the Gophers and went on to have NFL careers.

“He’s developing into a leader on our defense,” said defensive coordinator Robb Smith. “He’s got a knack for the ball that’s really starting to show up, he’s got incredible instincts, he comes from an awesome football family.”

Last season, Barber played in 11 games and had 12 tackles. He has started every game this year, and he had more tackles in last week’s game alone with 16 than he had in the entire 2016 season.

Barber has intercepted one pass and forced two fumbles this year.

“I see a lot of development,” Barber said. “I’ve been working with Jon Celestin and Cody Poock, all the older linebackers, they’ve been getting me in, getting me ready.”

Head coach P.J. Fleck said Barber had to develop quick as a football player.

“I think he’s matured very quickly,” Fleck said. “Maybe faster than he’s supposed to mature, or wanted to mature, [but] he’s had to mature because the demands of this team need him to be that way.”

Barber’s father Marion Barber Jr. is in the Gophers Hall of Fame for his record setting performance as a running back. He played for the New York Jets from 1982-88. Thomas’ oldest brother Marion Barber III was a running back for the Gophers from 2001-04. He has the fourth highest rushing yards in Gophers history, and he went on to be a Pro Bowl running back in the NFL.

Dominique Barber was a safety for the Gophers from 2004-07. He played in the NFL for the Houston Texans before an injury cut his playing time short in 2011. He currently works for the Gophers football team.

Thomas Barber said he knew once he got the offer, he would play for the Gophers.

“I probably knew as soon as I got the offer, I was going to commit,” Barber said. “And I did within a week, so there was no doubt in my mind.”