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Catching up with...Connor Barwin

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Connor Barwin has become one of he faces of the recent Cincinnati football success spilling over into the NFL.

 

He was a second-round pick of the Houston Texans in 2009 and by the end of the year came into his own as a pass rusher off the edge. His 2009 season finished with 2.5 sacks in the final six games.

 

Entering the 2010 season he looked primed to emerge as a force for all 16 games. Unfortunately, his season didn't last one. In the season opener, Barwin suffered an ugly ankle injury and put out for the season.

 

He spent all season rehabbing and with his off time over this winter he's decided to return to UC trying to finish his degree. He'll be here this winter semester and hopes to do the same next year to finish his history degree.

 

Barwin took 20 minutes of his time to chat with me last week. We talked about if he watched the video of his ugly ankle injury, why he's so outspoken about UC, advice for this year's team, why he sits in the front row, eating Subway every day for lunch, epic mustaches and a myriad of other topics.

 

Paul Dehner Jr.: How did it come about to return to UC?

 

Connor Barwin: Well, it was kind of my plan. I left after the fall part of my senior year for training. We all started traveling so I couldn't go to school to finish and graduate. I needed that winter and spring to finish, so after my rookie year, it was kind of a hectic first year. I decided this year, hurt or not, I was going to come back after the season ended. If we would have been in the playoffs it would have been hard to do. I decided after talking to Mike Thomas and Butch Jones about potentially coming back to school and they were both on board with it. As soon as we played our last game I drove to Cincinnati and started school that first week.

 

PDJ: What classes are you taking?

 

CB: I'm a history major, so I am taking three upper level history classes.

 

PDJ: What's the reaction like when you sat down on Day 1? You get a triple take from some people sitting around you?

 

CB: There was a couple. But I find myself a little more focused than I was when I was playing football here. It's crazy how much you can mature in two years. I did well, I think my Senior year I was 2.9 and 3.0. I definitely got a few double takes of, 'Is that who I think it is?' But I am sitting with the older people in class and I am sitting in the front of the classroom. I am not with the people in the back anymore, so it's been a bit of a different experience.

 

PDJ: So, you weren't a front of the classroom guy before?

 

CB: Oh no, I was in the back or the middle -- but never the front. I'm in the front row almost every class now.

 

PDJ: Speaking of the old days, the photo of you with this incredible mustache has circulated quite a bit, now that you are back in school here can you bring that back?

 

CB: No, no, I will not bring the mustache back. That's a gameday Sunday thing only, you shouldn't walk around in public with that mustache on in regular public. It's pretty, well, I used to scare myself when I looked at myself in the mirror.

 

PDJ: It was pretty full, it has some Selleck-like tendency to it?

 

CB: It definitely was, that's why it was so funny, that's why it was fun to wear on Sunday's because you feel ridiculous.

 

PDJ: Will it be back next season in Houston?

 

CB: Most likely. If I get a chance I will.

 

PDJ: It's probably a special request of the teammates now, isn't it?

 

CB: Oh yeah, people enjoy it.

 

PDJ: You know it inspired almost the entire offensive team to grow mustaches during camp this year?

 

CB: I did see that. That was pretty cool. It's a big commitment to grow a mustache so, I was proud of those guys to try to do it.

 

PDJ: You are just doing this semester, right?

 

CB: Yeah, I will do this semester, then hopefully next year I can come back and finish the same time next year. It works out for us nice because if you don't go to the playoffs - hopefully we'll go to the playoffs next year, then I'll finish in the spring - we had two dead months. At UC, it's 10-week quarters, so I can work with the Texans and they'll allow me to get out of 10 weeks for school.

 

PDJ: Has that always been something that has been really important to you, that no matter what you want to go back and get that degree?  

 

CB: For me, I never kind of thought about it, for me it was obvious. You had to do it. It seems like some of the reaction when people find out I am going back to school is, 'Oh, I can't believe you are going back to school, you have a career you are making money,' but in my mind it was, you have to go back to school. I can't not have my degree just because I'm playing football. It just made sense to me and I knew I had to do it no matter what.

 

PDJ: With the labor situation, you may have plenty of chances to get some classes done.

 

CB: Exactly, I may need to get my degree and get a job.

 

PDJ: You know, the biggest advantage now is you aren't a poor college student anymore, you can afford to grab more than a Chik-fil-a sandwich for lunch?

 

CB: That is a difference, but there's not that many choices on campus, so I still stick to Subway pretty much every day.

 

PDJ: Would you rather sit through an 8 a.m. lecture in your history class or go through film of a loss with your position coach?

 

CB: Oh, I would much rather sit in hour lecture of history than watch film after a loss. No matter what.

 

PDJ: Is that the most brutal part of the NFL experience, the post-loss film session?

 

CB: I don't know if it's the film session, it's just losing is brutal. I don't know what the environment is on every team, I'm sure that's the way it is around the league, but you hate losing no matter what. Competitors hate losing. But at the professional level it's just so disappointing for everyone when you lose with the amount of work that you put in. The day after the night of the game, stay home the next day, it takes a good 24-48 hours to get that bad taste out of your mouth.

 

PDJ: Obviously last year was brutal for you, did you ever watch the video of our injury, because it made the rounds virally?

 

CB: I watched it. I DVR'd the game at my house. I watched it once. But I haven't deleted it in my DVR. I don't know if I'll watch it again. It was pretty nasty, it was like, how did I not hurt my knee with what it look like on TV. Considering my ankle gave out completely that allowed nothing to happen to my knee, thankfully. It's one of those injuries that you would think would happen 10 times during a game and then it only happens a couple times during the season to certain people.

 

PDJ: Have you ever had an injury that serious before?

 

CB: Never. I have never had a football-related surgery or anything. It's my first injury. Hopefully my last. Playing this sport, these things are bound to happen at one point in your career.

 

PDJ: How tough was that to come to terms with you work all offseason, you prepare, you go through the preseason it takes forever, then first game like that, how tough was that to deal with initially?

 

CB: It was really hard. The biggest thing for me was I couldn't think of it in terms like that. Because if I started thinking how much work I put in the offseason, how ready I was to help the team, that would have killed myself, so I tried to immediately focus on what I had to do, even though in hindsight it was such a long way away. Immediately I turned my focus getting better right away, what steps I have to take to get swelling down and different things like that. I try not to look at it in the long term because it is just so hard to think of things that way so you just try to take it day by day. That's how I got through it.

 

PDJ: What was your rehab process and where are you at with that now?

 

CB: I've been doing rehab all year in Houston, which was nice that I got to stay around the guys all season. As soon as it ended, I came here and continued my rehab with Bob Mangine, the UC football team head trainer. I work with him every morning before class. The rehab is going well, I started running last week. I am running even better this week. Hopefully in a month or two, without any setbacks I will be back to full go.

 

PDJ: The 4.47 you ran a pro day two years ago, you going to have that back in you?

 

CB: I don't know if I'll ever have that back in me again, but hopefully close to it.

 

PDJ: What was the biggest thing you took from sitting back and watching the season?

 

CB: You spend time watching the film and you learn more about football. I think the biggest thing I grabbed from it was just how precious your time is out there. I go from having a good time playing high school football to playing four years of working my way through the system then to my rookie year and just being pulled out of that, that much and having to sit back and watch, kind of made you realize how lucky you are to be playing. How to take advantage of the time you are given when you can play. You just don't realize how lucky you are to be doing what you are doing. That's the biggest thing and hopefully I can remember that when I am going through those hard days next year at training camp and hopefully at Week 12 next year I can remember how much worse it was when I wasn't able to play.

 

PDJ: You have been as active and outspoken about UC and the football program as probably any athlete that has come through here. Where does that come from?

 

CB: I think it just comes from me going to school here and having a great time and being around people that treated me the same way. People that believed in me at this university always believed in me from the beginning. They gave me the opportunity. It's the biggest school I got offered from. I came here and they gave me an opportunity, if it wasn't for them I wouldn't be where I am now. Anybody that gets to play basketball and football for this university is going to have a different perspective. I just know it is a great school, I am going to be a UC fan the rest of my life, hopefully an alumni pretty soon. After four years you become indebted to the university and there is nothing that is going to change that. I am not going to forget where I came from, so to speak. And I want them to do well. When I first started the UC football teams wasn't doing very well and when I finished they were the best they've ever been. I want that for every other student-athlete that goes here. I want them to be successful because it makes it that much more rewarding, so much more fun.

 

PDJ: There's still a few guys you have connections to on the team, what is the impression you have gotten from them as far as recovering from the disappointing season?

 

CB: There is one class that I played with and that is Zach Collaros' class. Being around them, with one year left and meeting some of the younger guys being around them in the weight room, it's cool because they can ask me for advice sometimes. My biggest thing to them is I have gone through a coaching change and the biggest thing everybody has a different philosophy, everybody does things different. But the coaches are there for the same reason as you. I just tell them they have to buy in completely to what the coach is trying to preach and the assistants are preaching. If everybody buys in, that is what happened when I was here. We all bought into Coach Kelly's philosophy and that is the most important thing.

 

PDJ: Hard from the outside now, but from what you have seen and talking to guys do you see a lot of the similarities in the coaching changeover that went through to the one now?

 

CB: I do see them buying in. It takes a little bit of time. When Coach Kelly got here, we had a strength coach we thought initially for the first couple months that this was the craziest guy. We just didn't understand his philosophy, what he was doing. It takes time to buy in. By the time he left we felt this guy was the reason we were running faster and winning games was because we had the greatest strength coach ever. It is about taking time, buying in and as long as you believe in their ideas they are going to work if everyone is committed to the same thing.

 

PDJ: Will you be down at the Super Bowl?

 

CB: I'll be down there for the weekend. I am here Monday through Friday, but I will be out at the Super Bowl, in Houston a couple weekend. There's still stuff I got to do for weekends but I will be here Monday-Friday every week for school.

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