College Football: Catawba welcomes back Barksdale
SALISBURY — Calvin “C.J.” Barksdale crashes into a helpless blocking sled with the force of a masked wrestler flying off the top rope, and the sled is suddenly skidding across the grass as if it’s being dragged by eight of Santa’s reindeer.
Onlookers at Catawba’s Sunday evening’s practice feel sorry for the sled. They can feel its pain.
Barksdale, a powerful, athletic defensive end who looks like he could wrestle — and pin — a grizzly is back in uniform for the Indians.
That’s really good news. If he can stay in one piece and out of the training room, Barksdale is a playmaker, difference-maker and offense-breaker.
“Barksdale staying healthy is what we’re hoping for,” said assistant coach Radell Lockhart, who was Barksdale-ish for the Indians 14 years ago. “He makes us better.”
Back in 2011, Barksdale was an agile bundle of energy from Simpsonville, S.C., with something to prove to the South Atlantic Conference.
He proved it with 53 tackles. He had 13 tackles for loss as a true freshman. He recovered two fumbles in a game against Coastal Carolina. He kicked butts and took names just about every Saturday on his way to SAC Freshman Defensive Player of the Year honors. He was second team All-SAC, which is not a normal thing for a freshman. Freshmen usually have to pay dues.
As a sophomore in 2012, Barksdale came back to earth a bit, but there were still 32 tackles, six for loss. There was an eight-tackle game against Carson-Newman that reminded everyone of how he had dominated as a freshman.
But it hasn’t been any fun for the amiable Barksdale since then. The date that’s seared in Barksdale’s brain is Sept. 12, 2013, the date of his first knee surgery. There was a medical redshirt year following surgery and then an aborted comeback attempt last season.
“The first injury to my right knee (ACL) was right before the 2013 season started,” Barksdale said. “Then I came back and played in just one game in 2014 (Newberry) before an MRI showed I tore it again. But I feel great now. I feel like I can do all the things I used to do.”
Through the injuries, he hasn’t sulked or fumed, and he’s stayed in top shape.
“He’s actually been a big part of our program the last two years even though I’ve never really had a chance to coach him and our current staff hasn’t had a chance to coach him,” Catawba head coach Curtis Walker said. “He’s helped the program off the field, but it’s been disappointing not to have him on the field. But now he’s fully healthy. We’re excited about that.”
Barksdale wasn’t on the preseason All-SAC team, but that’s understandable. After a two-year hiatus, he’s got to prove himself all over again.
“I think the rest of the league has forgotten him,” Walker said with a laugh.
Barksdale will line up at right end and will still wear his familiar No. 92. Lockhart challenged his troops at Sunday’s practice to be great — not average — and Barksdale was listening.
“I never thought about giving up because I love this game too much,” Barksdale. “Now I’ve got a great opportunity to play, and I want to make the most of it.”