A few days after coaching his team to the Virginia state 1-A boys' basketball championship last March, Surry County coach Joseph Ellis was a guest at a meeting of the Norfolk Sports Club.
Ellis was seated at the head table with well-known area sports figures like Frank Beamer, Al Groh and Michael Vick, and found himself sitting in between former ACC coaching legends Terry Holland and Lefty Driesell.
When they got around to introducing Ellis, he received an extended standing ovation.
Ellis knew he had colon cancer.
"Joe rose to his feet and said, ‘I'm honored to be sitting with you.' Then Lefty Driesell stood up and said, ‘No, I'm honored by sitting with you," said Cougars football coach Ervin Jones.
Less than a week after Surry County defeated Twin Springs in the title game held in Richmond, Ellis, 52, died at his home.
"Since he passed, I've really been thinking about things," Barham said. "Thinking about him gives me the extra incentive I need to keep on pushing. "He was like a father figure. I know he would be proud of me right now."
Barham likened Ellis' no nonsense approach of teaching, coaching and mentoring to that of UNC coach John Bunting.
"He always stressed academics," Barham said of Ellis. "I had pretty good grades. I never had any problems. Yet, he struggled, but he never complained."
"Joe nurtured his players," added Surry County assistant principal Aaron Chambers. "Ed's been with him since he was in ninth grade.
"He was a straight shooter, and you couldn't have a better role model. His one saying was, ‘Do the right thing.' We would like to have you, but we don't need you if you're going to bigger than the program."
Obviously the UNC coaches liked what they saw in Barham from a maturity standpoint, both on the field and off. He was notifed after he got home that he would be offered a scholarship by Carolina.
"I thought about probably for about a couple of minutes," laughed Barham. "I had visited before. I called my parents and my coach and they were with me 100 percent."
Barham, who has already decided he will major in Computer Engineering at UNC, works as hard on his academics as he does athletics. He also is an excellent communicator with an infectious personality.
"He's got a gift for the gab,'" Jones said. "But he's has good manners with it also. Ed is a very personable person. I've known him since he was five years old. He has good strong family support.
"His attitude is great; and that's a big part of it. And, he's a student. Ed not only wants to play football… Ed likes money, and he's thinking about his future."
The Tar Heels hope Barham can back up the talk on the field. Along with his size and strength, he has the potential, Jones said, "…to be one of the greatest athletes to ever come through Chapel Hill."
Meanwhile, his coach said Barham needs to continue to work on his speed (4.7 seconds over 40 yards) and therefore has urged him to run the 220m next spring on the track team. And, UNC's strength and conditioning coaches are sending his coach a weight program in the mail for Barham to follow over the next school year.
"They expect me to come in and work hard during the offseason, especially during basketball season," Barham said. "I'll be able to stay in shape, and I'll work hard."