Brandon Barden is the player with the most college potential on the Lincoln County team. He's also the player whose talents are the most unsung.
There's no easy way to put on paper what he means to his team. An attempt was made to do so last week at the All-State meeting in Atlanta. The state's sportswriters were discussing who was the top quarterback in Class A this season.
A player who'd thrown for 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns was mentioned. That ended Barden's candidacy even though he'd led the Red Devils to their second consecutive state title game, tonight against Clinch County.
It's odd because few are in his league athletically. He can fling a football 70 yards in the air. He already has good size for an NFL player. He's fast enough to have been timed in the 40-yard dash at 4.6 seconds.
But he's no stat compiler. He's played only two full games this year because of blowouts. He missed another game with a sore knee.
Barden has caught enough passes to lead the team in receiving. He's also thrown for 498 yards and run for 558. That's even though he's committed to be a tight end or receiver at Virginia Tech.
"Brandon is really just a great athlete that happens to play quarterback for us," Lincoln County coach Larry Campbell said. "He's our quarterback because he gives us our best chance to win with him at that position."
There's no stat that measures his impact. No place to see his true worth in a box score. The best place may be the sleeve of a letter jacket. That's where championship patches go.
Win is what he does. He leads and inspires his team. It's harder to learn how to do that than throw a block or a spiral.
Tough as nails
The essence of that was last week. The Red Devils were playing Commerce at The Georgia Dome. There was 7:55 left in the third quarter.
Lincoln was up just 7-3. The scoreboard clock read 7:55 and Barden was flat on his back.
His knee had planted in the turf mix that protects the million dollar knees of the Atlanta Falcons. The mix of sand and crumb tire rubber was no solvent to a knee that's ached all season.
Brandon's size-15 foot planted on the turf while making a pitch to Darell Norman. His knee locked.
"It's going to hurt every week," he said. "I'll need surgery after the season. It pops and there's a sharp pain. I had to lay there for a bit."
He did for several seconds.
"It got twisted," he said. "My knee got caught in all those seeds and stuff on the turf. I wasn't feeling alright. But I needed that time to convince myself I was anyway."
When he rose, he went to the sideline to get the next play. It was a Barden option run. He picked up eight yards and the first down. "Tells you something about the toughness of the kid," Lincoln County assistant coach Lee Chomskis said. "Doesn't it? I admire him for playing through it."
He gets that from Mom.
Barden's mother is the principal at Lincoln County. Father Michael Barden played for Campbell on the offensive line.
Becky Barden played basketball at Harlem. She averaged 18 points per game my senior year.
"I guess I get most of my athletic ability from mom," he said.
Becky Barden started showing her version of tough love when he played catcher for his youth baseball team. There was once a violent collision at home plate.
"He had a bloody nose and I was the Mom standing up hollering for him to tag the runner," Becky Barden said. "I guess I'm not your typical mom when it comes to that kind of stuff."
That was evident when the swelling in Barden's knee was so great he was pondering surgery. It would've meant a three-week rehab before he'd be able to get back on the field.
"I told him to handle a little pain and tough it out," Becky Barden said. "The doctors said his knee wasn't going to get any worse. He thought about the surgery and coming back for the playoffs. I told him there might not be the playoffs if he doesn't play quarterback."
There are a lot of qualities about Barden that no doubt make his parents proud.
He carries a 93 overall grade average, has graduated and will enroll at Virginia Tech in January. His mother said he could be as a comedian one day.
Teammates flock to him. He has a charisma that knows when to get in and out of mischief and when to be serious.
"He's got a soft heart," his mother said. "You should see the way he deals with kids. He has a way with special education kids that makes me so proud."
That tender side comes when he talks about his grandfather. C.W. Barden was a big reason why he moved from Lakeside High after his parents divorced. It had a lot to do with football and family.
Barden moved to Lincolnton to live with his father and be closer to his grandfather.
"I called him Papa and Pedro," Barden said. "We played around and had a good time. He was my best friend. He died a game before the semifinals my freshman year."
He plays every game in memory of his grandfather.
"Every night I lay in bed and after I say my prayers I look up and tell him I love and miss him," he said. "I know he's watching my shoulder and got my back out on the field."
He said his aching knee feels better whenever he does that.
Reach Jeff Sentell at (706) 823-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
CALL HIM SLASH
Senior Brandon Barden is Lincoln County's leading passer and receiver. The Virginia Tech commitment is tied for the team lead in touchdowns and third in rushing and has led the Red Devils to a 24-4 record at quarterback.
2004: As a tight end, the sophomore rolled up 428 receiving yards and four touchdowns en route to earning first-team all-state (Class A) honors.
2005: With 552 rushing yards, 978 passing yards and 25 total TDs, the quarterback was named second-team all-area. The team won state.
2006: The quarterback tallied 558 rushing yards, 498 passing yards, 181 receiving yards and 20 total TDs entering the state title game.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Lincoln County (13-1) faces longtime nemesis Clinch County (12-2) for the Class A state championship at 6 tonight in Lincolnton, Ga. Here's a quick comparison of the two squads:
|CLINCH COUNTY||CATEGORY||LINCOLN COUNTY|
|34.4||Pts. scored (per game)||33.4-3.0|
|7.1||Points allowed (per game)||3.0|
|8||College prospects (seniors)||6|
|58-10-1||Record since 2002||59-12|
|4||Overall state championships||13|