The athletic career of Connor Barwin is unlike that of any other NCAA student athlete. The Hazel Park, Michigan native grew up playing both football and basketball, and initially saw himself playing hoops at the next level. Helping his team reach a district championship his junior year, Barwin was named to both the all-league and all-catholic team as a member of the University of Detroit Jesuit's basketball team. During the latter portion of his tenure at U. of Detroit Jesuit however, Barwin realized his dreams of playing division one college basketball may be aiming too high.
"I thought I was going to be a (college) basketball player," said Barwin. "I had played all my life all the time. I was pretty skilled, but I wasn't tall enough or fast enough. I definitely didn't have a good enough jump shot to be a wing guy at a big conference and play division one basketball, and I could see that getting towards the end of high school."
During the summer before his senior year of high school, University of Detroit Jesuit High School head football coach Scott Merchant approached Barwin with an interesting proposal.
"The football coach said, ‘I know you want to play basketball, but I know you're not going to be able to go to division one and play basketball, but you can in football,'" said Barwin.
Barwin believed the coach and decided to put basketball aside, start working out, and take football seriously. His dedication and hard work paid off quickly, as just four games into his senior season Barwin had received scholarship offers to play football from a number of schools in the Mid American Conference.
Then came along the University of Cincinnati. In the world of recruiting, a lot of the big, major college football schools get a majority of their offers out to high school juniors, rarely targeting seniors. Finding a player like Barwin, who would finish his season rated the number 17 player in Michigan by The Detroit Free Press, before bigger schools could notice his potential made all the difference in Barwin's decision on where to play college football.
"I always said I probably would go to the biggest school I could go to, and this was it," said Barwin of the University of Cincinnati.
Once on-campus, Barwin immediately made his presence felt at UC. He played as a backup tight end in all 11 football games for then head coach Mark Dantonio during the 2005 season and ranked second on the team in averaging 18 yards per catch, notching receptions in seven of the Bearcat's contests.
Barwin's freshman year also provided for an opportunity he didn't expect. The departure of head basketball coach Bob Huggins left interim coach Andy Kennedy with a heavily depleted roster. Following the season-ending injury of Armein Kirkland and in need of an additional player, Kennedy turned to Dantonio, who having had personally watched Barwin play basketball in high school, knew just where to find the player Kennedy was looking for.
Though the team struggled to reach a .500 record over the course of the two seasons Barwin played basketball for the Bearcats, the experience was one he will always think fondly of.
"It was probably one of the coolest things I've done in college, definitely," said Barwin. "I'm so thankful for it. I know it would have never happened probably if I would have gone anywhere else. It was just a huge blessing and a lot of luck, but I'm really happy and thankful that I got the opportunity to do it."
It may have been a tough road for the team overall, but Barwin has many fond memories of his time as a basketball Bearcat.
"My best moments from basketball are just some of the big games that we won down the stretch and just having everybody behind us," said Barwin of his time on the hardwood. "We beat West Virginia here (at home), that was a great game. Then, almost beating Villanova when they were number two in the country was really fun. My second year playing basketball was a lot harder, but when we beat Xavier in the Cross-town Shootout, that was probably one of my other top moments playing basketball."
Now a senior and no longer a walk-on member of the basketball team, this season has provided Barwin with yet another challenge and opportunity to succeed. After three seasons of playing tight end with the offense, in a move that surprised many fans, Barwin has moved over to the defensive side of the ball where he now starts at defensive end.
"It's definitely been worth it so far," said Barwin of the switch. "It's another exciting twist and I think that makes it a lot more fun when there's these different kinds of things that make it a little more exciting. I kind of took it on as a challenge to be successful at it, and so far I'm happy with how it's worked."
Head football coach Brian Kelly has had good things to say about Barwin at his new position since the first day he lined up there.
"Well what we were looking for is if he had just the innate inability to put his hand on the ground and not look like a guy that was in a different element, and he looked really comfortable," said Kelly back on April 1. "That's a good first impression for us, that he felt comfortable, lined up, and was able to do some things."
Now just over halfway through the season, Barwin has totaled 26 tackles at his new position and is playing like a natural. He leads the Bearcats with eight and a half tackles for loss and six quarterback sacks on the year.
"Connor's been doing well," says defensive line coach Keith Gilmore. "He's got a lot to learn, each game is a learning experience for him, but he hustles and he plays fast and he's always learning and trying to get better."
Barwin's open-minded attitude and willingness to play any position (or sport) at which he's needed could greatly help him in his goal to continue his football career after his time at the University of Cincinnati.
"Hopefully I'll get an opportunity to keep playing. It's been a dream of mine my whole life, so if that works out that'll be awesome," says Barwin.
Even Barwin admits however that he's not sure what position he would play in the NFL. Some have said he still possesses the ability to play the tight end position, whereas others project him staying at defensive end or even playing outside linebacker. It certainly doesn't matter to Barwin, however.
"Hopefully some team thinks I can be some position and it works out," said Barwin. "It doesn't matter to me; I'll play whatever can get me on a team and keep me on a team. That's all I want to do."
When asked if he thinks he could revert back to his basketball playing days and have a future in the NBA, Barwin responded, "I think I could go play over in Europe somewhere. I think everybody plays in Europe that doesn't work out here. No, I'm kidding. I mean, obviously that would never happen."
It's a good thing he cleared that up. Because when it comes to Connor Barwin, you never know what he's going to do next.
The Many Faces of Connor Barwin
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