May 26, 2007

Barksdale gets noticed at small school

Gannett News Service

Right there in Newark. Near the end zone in Delaware Stadium. With 22,000-plus shell-shocked Blue Hen fans staring back and the ball planted firmly under his armpit.

Right then and there, the greatest memory of Rashad Barksdale's football career.

"I remember every single detail about that game," said Barksdale, the Eagles' sixth-round pick in last month's draft. "It was a like a movie."

Kind of like a "Rocky" flick, with Delaware playing the role of indomitable prizefighter and Barksdale's University at Albany squad the obscure wannabe getting its one shot at acclaim.

Barksdale picked off the first two passes of his collegiate career, including a last-gasp attempt by Blue Hens quarterback Joe Flacco at the 3-yard-line to secure one of the most unlikely upsets of the college football season and stun a partisan home crowd that couldn't possible have believed puny Albany could pull off a 17-10 shocker.

After the interception, Barksdale gazed into the jam-packed crowd and placed his pointer finger over his lips -- the universal sign for quiet.

He was too late.

"It was like somebody pressed the mute button on the fan crowd," Barksdale recalled.
He never had the chance.

Though he had just one year of eligibility, Barksdale was playing just his fourth college football game.

After two years of playing junior college baseball, two more at Albany and a couple failed attempts to go pro, Barksdale abandoned his first love and approached Great Danes football coach Bob Ford about a chance to play the sport he always believed was his best.

"I just wanted to play football, stay busy," he said.

Albany might not be Oklahoma or Penn State, but the fledgling I-AA club still had a couple of legitimate pro football prospects.

Ford had his doubts about the impact Barksdale could make.

It took a few practices before Barksdale changed Ford's mind. By the season opener, Barksdale had climbed his way from third-string cornerback to starting. He also took over the team's top punt returner job.

"I said to my people it was Christmas in July," Ford said.

By Albany's fourth game, Barksdale had showed signs that he could more than hold his own.
Recalled Blue Hens offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca: "When the game was over, I remember watching film on Sunday and saying, "This kid's a pretty good football player.' I hope it works out for him."

Barksdale is hoping to go the route of Rich Gannon, whose heroics at quarterback on Saturdays at Delaware Stadium for the Blue Hens served as the launching pad to a career in the National Football League.

Soon after the upset, pro scouts who had been evaluating Albany's other NFL-caliber players had inquired about the 5-foot-11, 208-pound overnight prospect. At Albany's Pro Day, Barksdale unveiled another gem unknown known to Ford -- blazing 4.38 40-yard-dash speed.

"I couldn't freefall in 4.38," Ford marveled. "Every scout could see his tremendous upside."

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