Barlow Back In The 'Burgh

PITTSBURGH -- Kevan Barlow's NFL career was at a crossroad, and the former University of Pittsburgh running back had to make sure he chose the correct direction.

After being drafted by San Francisco and spending four years with the 49ers, as well as one mostly forgettable season with the New York Jets, Barlow had a chance to return home. A former Peabody High School star in Pittsburgh's City League, the 28-year-old Barlow got a chance to play for his hometown team.

"My family just told me to do what was best for me, but it's an excellent opportunity for me to come home and play for the Steelers,'' Barlow said. "My family would support me wherever I would play, but while I'm here I'll probably have to order about 300 tickets. I have lots of cousins and nephews and cousins that I don't know about. They'll all be asking for tickets.''

"It's good to be back home, and I'm excited to be here. Through this whole free-agency process, the Steelers came in late, and I never knew that I'd be a Pittsburgh Steeler. But I'm excited that I'm here, and I'm looking forward to the opportunity to play football for the Pittsburgh Steelers.''

Barlow wasn't a huge recruit when Pitt signed him, but he had a solid career there and was the last Panthers running back to rush for more than 1,000 yards. He led Pitt in rushing three straight seasons with 533 yards in 1998, 630 in 1999 and 1,167 -- the eighth highest-total in team history -- in 2000.

Barlow is seventh overall in career rushing yards with 2,438 and is also is second to Tony Dorsett's 303 against Notre Dame in 1975 with 272 rushing yards and four touchdowns against West Virginia in 2000. However, he had a stormy relationship with Pitt head coach Walt Harris.

"I had some great days with Pitt and Coach Harris,'' Barlow said. "Coach Harris is a very funny guy. You know what I'm talking about, if you know me, but it was a great time for me at Pitt.

"Some of the best times in my life were when I was playing for the University of Pittsburgh. But that's magnified even more now that I'm signed on to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers.''

Barlow received a one-year contract for $595,000 with a $40,000 signing bonus basically to be the backup to tailback Willie Parker, who ran for more than 1,000 yards the past two seasons and has had a pair of 200-yard games. So, even though Parker appears to be entrenched in the starting spot, Barlow doesn't concede anything.

"I have a fresh start here after a bad year last season when I had several nagging injuries and never could get going,'' Barlow said. "But I'm still a young guy,'' Barlow said. "I've been in this league a little while, but I don't have a lot of mileage on my body. I feel good. I didn't get a lot of carries over the past few years because we got behind early and had to throw the ball a lot.

"So, I'm ready to go. Once I learn the playbook here, I'll be just fine. I'm going to go out there and compete for the starting job. I can respect what Willie has done here the past two seasons, and I know he's the starter. But all I've been is a starter in this league, for the most part, so I'm going to go out there and play like I a chance to start is on the line.

"Hopefully, that will make Willie a better player, and he can push me and make me a better player, too,'' Barlow added. "And that's how it should be, but my mentality and my mindset is to be a starter. Even Najeh Davenport, he's a good player, too. So, we're all going to make each other better football players, and that can only benefit the Pittsburgh Steelers.''

The Steelers and first-year head coach Mike Tomlin still believe that Barlow has something left, even though this is his sixth NFL season and he apparently struggled the past few.

"I like Kevan Barlow,'' Tomlin said. "I competed against him several times since he's been in the league. He has featured-back capabilities, and he runs downhill on people. He's caught quite a few passes. I know he came up in this league respecting the element of blitz-pickup and being taught by Garrison Hearst and Tom Rathman (with the 49ers), who's well-known for that.

"Of course, he's a Pittsburgh native and loves the Steelers. He's been kind of bounced around by this profession a bit as of late, but he just needs an opportunity. He needs a fresh start. He's expressed an interest in being a part of us, and we certainly have an interest in him. So, we're looking forward to seeing how all that sorts out on the practice field.''

Barlow pointed out that in his final three seasons with the 49ers, as well as last season with the Jets and, of course, this one with the Steelers he had a different head coach, running backs coach and offensive coordinator. That's a lot of different opinions and playbooks.

"It was the best thing for me to ask for my release and get out of there, even though me and (Jets) Coach (Eric) Mangini ended on good terms,'' Barlow said. "I just didn't feel like the offense fit me. I got traded the week before the season, even though (49ers coach) Mike Nolan gave me his word that I wouldn't be traded two days before that, so I got a late start with the Jets.''

Barlow ran for 370 yards and six touchdowns with three starts for the Jets. He has nearly 4,000 career rushing yards with 30 touchdowns and 144 catches in six NFL seasons, but 101 during his final three years with San Francisco. Barlow's best NFL season was in 2003 when he had 1,024 yards rushing and six touchdowns with a 5.1-yard average and six scores but only four starts. He also had 35 catches and one touchdown that season.

Barlow had several other free-agent offers this spring, including a good one from Atlanta, but he gave the Steelers the hometown discount.

"Getting later in my career,'' Barlow said, "I felt like I had to make the right decision now. The last few years in San Francisco weren't that great, from top to bottom, so I felt like I came to an organization now with some stability and direction and knew which way they were going. And I think that's important. Fortunately, I got my big payday, and all I want to do now is win.

"It's always been about winning for me, but I know the Steelers are all about that. And when I met with Coach Tomlin, he expressed his desire to keep that same attitude here in Pittsburgh. He is focused on that, and I know how important that is. They gave me a lot of money with the 49ers and told me to run the ball with no supporting cast. And that was tough.

"That year, we got rid of 17 starters like Jeff Garcia, Terrell Owens, J.J. Stokes, the whole offensive line,'' Barlow added. "We had 15 new starters like Cedrick Wilson. We had a new coach that year, and everybody was new in the organization from top to bottom. I ran hard, but there was nowhere to go, and the player who made the most money took the blame for everything.''

Barlow looks leaner, but maintains that he is still 6-foot-1 and around 230 pounds -- his playing weight at Pitt -- but that might change now that he's back in his hometown.

"The first thing I did when I got home was go to sleep, because I was still on California time,'' Barlow said. "When I came here on my visit (during the free-agent period), I hit Primanti's. I hit Peppi's, and I went to Beto's Pizza. You know how it is in Cali. You've got to eat Sushi and all that California food, but now that I'm back home I can eat some real food. So, I'm glad to be back.''

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