The inspiration behind Luke Falk's wrist band

JUST AS HE’S DONE in every game since last season’s opener in Seattle, Washington State quarterback Luke Falk will take the field Saturday night at UCLA with his very own 12th man in tow. The guy’s name is Brad. You’ve probably seen him standing tall in capital letters on Falk’s left wrist.

In fact, if you zero in on the nation’s leading passer just as he’s about to let fly, you’ll find BRAD nudged close to Falk’s jersey number, right next to his heart.

He’s not fancy — a little Magic Marker on a bit of terrycloth. Sometimes the B is closest to the hand, sometimes the D.

Earlier this season, Falk was asked after a game for insight on the importance of the name on the wrist band. In standard Falk fashion, which is to say understated, he explained that Brad Barton was a favorite coach back home.

The memory fades as to whether Falk mentioned that Brad passed away a few years ago. Regardless, the media members gathered around were satisfied with the quarterback’s brief response and quickly moved on to the next question.

But as Falk’s allegiance attests, Brad Barton is not a guy you move by quickly.

You see, he was a basketball coach so full of energy, so brimming with inspiration and can-do attitude, his players would run through the proverbial wall for him.

Falk first met him at a basketball camp Barton had put together when Falk was in elementary school, remembers Luke's dad, Mike. Luke was maybe nine-years-old and earned camp MVP honors, which eventually led to a place on the AAU team Barton coached.

“This tells you a lot about Brad,” says the elder Falk. “He was undersized, under-gifted athletically, under talented -- all of those things, yet he found a way to get a college scholarship and then play professionally in Europe.

“He loved the game and came back to Utah to share that passion -- Brad was a true builder. He loved building the confidence of his players. The guy had a spirit -- and a work ethic that I see with Luke.”

As a player, Barton was the gym rat who did all the grunt work coaches love, like playing tough defense, diving for loose balls and supporting teammates. He averaged just 3.01 points per game at Weber State, yet served as the Wildcats’ team captain on the 2002-03 club that advanced to the NCAA Tournament.

“One of the greatest mentors Luke has ever had – a life-influencing presence,” says Luke’s mom, Analee. “Just a real special guy, a tremendous soul.

“Luke considers him as fine a human being as he’ll ever meet. In sports, he says Brad taught him to do the little things you don’t need talent to accomplish – like working hard, giving excellent effort, and being tough mentally and physically. He also encouraged Luke to follow his passion, even if it was football rather than basketball.”

ON OCTOBER 4, 2011, THE DAY AFTER Falk learned he was ineligible to play his junior season of football due to an ill-fated family move to California and back to Utah, Barton didn’t show up at the office.

“Coach Brad,” as most people called him, had risen from a high school and AAU coach to the head job at Utah State University-Eastern. He was entering his fourth season at the junior college and third as head coach.


BRAD BARTON

Assistant Brian Edelstein told Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com he thought maybe Barton had pulled one of his all-nighters — going to the office when he couldn’t sleep — and would be in later. When Barton didn’t show up for practice that afternoon, Edlestein tried calling.

No answer.

He sent the team to the weight room and headed to Barton’s house. A type-1 diabetic, Barton had suffered from seizures in the past and Edelstein thought perhaps Barton was just laying low for a few minutes recovering from one.

"... I found him lying in the bathroom," Edelstein told Parrish. "I called 911 right away. But, you know, it was pretty obvious."

Brad Barton was 31 years old. He had been taken by a diabetic seizure.

“It was just devastating news,” remembers Analee Falk.

“My dad had diabetes so I could really relate to Brad. He once told me he knew he wasn’t going to live to be an old man and that influenced how he lived his life. Every day was a gift, he packed a lifetime into his 31 years.”

BARTON’S DEATH COMPOUNDED MATTERS for Luke, who thought he was returning to normalcy in Utah after the California foray, she said. Now one of the cornerstones of his young athletic career -- of life generally -- was suddenly gone. At age 31.

It didn’t compute. Not for Falk, not for Edelstein, not for anyone who knew Barton.

“God is testing me,” Analee remembers Luke telling her.

The saving grace, she says, is that while Luke was ruled ineligible to play football that season, he was cleared for basketball and poured himself into it.

That’s when the game-day salutes to Barton began.

“Luke wrote ‘Brad’ on his basketball socks. He did it as a junior and senior and then in football as a senior. When he got to Washington State he put Brad’s name on the towel he tucked in his uniform, with John 15:13 (Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends) written on the back. That was Brad’s favorite quote from scripture.”

The towel gave way to the wrist band 21 games ago. Now, 12 starts and 5,595 yards later, Brad Barton is at the center of one of the most compelling resurrection stories in college football.

Once in a great while a coach comes along that not only wins, but also inspires his players and those around him.

That’s how the Eastern Utah student newspaper began its story about Barton’s death.

The toughest, most competitive, comedic, loyal, thoughtful, passionate and compassionate friend to all. Gratitude and optimism were his core, knowledge and wit were at his fingertips, and he was the life of every party.

That was a passage in the obituary on Barton that ran in the Deseret News in Salt Lake City.

He had no wife or kids, but he built a large extended family through his daily focus on others. The outpouring of love and admiration for him was -- and is -- so complete that Eastern Utah students held a vigil on the first anniversary of his death.

Of course, the salute to this promising young man taken too soon doesn’t end there.

Every Saturday, if you look closely at the nation’s leading passer just before he lets fly, you’ll catch a glimpse of Brad Barton right next to Luke Falk’s heart.


FALK FIRES BEHIND THE PROTECTION OF COLE MADISON.


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