MULLINS, S.C. — In Danny Barker’s eyes, there’s nothing like a fall Friday night.
The lights, the preparation.
The blood, sweat and tears that each and every team goes through to make sure it’s ready for that next game.
And no one wants to be ready more than Barker, the Golden Eagles’ middle linebacker.
It’s what he plays for. It’s what he lives for.
“It’s a love for the game,” Barker said. “That’s it.”
But it’s not just the game. It’s the atmosphere, the bus ride.
Or even a walk to the field where Barker makes sure he’s there at a specific time.
It must be 4 p.m. — not a minute earlier, or later.
“After I show up, I head to the weight room for a little arm and chest workout to get everything pumped up and get the adrenaline flowing through my body,” Barker said.
It doesn’t stop there.
“I get to the field and get zoned in while stretching and jogging around for a little bit,” he added.
But don’t forget the Cheez-Its. That’s just as important as everything else. It’s part of the pregame routine Barker has had during the past three years.
But it’s OK if the grocery store is occasionally out of Cheez-Its.
“Sometimes it might be Goldfish Crackers, but lately this season it’s been a lot of Cheez-Its,” he said.
After putting on his uniform, followed by the team’s pregame devotion, it’s game time.
And game time is when Barker shines the most, as he has made 73 tackles (nine for loss), caused five fumbles and recovered three. And, five sacks to go along with that.
“Danny is a leader for us in so many ways, but I think of his work ethic and passion for the game to start with,” PDA coach Jonathan King said. “He loves the weight room and is in there whether we have an organized team lift or not. He is always working to get stronger and faster. He’s the first guy on the practice field and the last one off. Every drill is wide open mentally and physically.”
So much so that Barker watches three to four hours of film about his opponents.
“I try to see how an offensive lineman might tip us, or maybe how a running back looks or leans to let us know which way he might go,” Barker said.
That’s another reason Barker enjoys playing middle linebacker. He’s the on-field play-caller for the fourth-ranked Eagles’ defense.
“The coaches like for me to get people lined up in the right spots after the offense comes out of the huddle,” Barker said. “And that’s where watching the pregame film is so important. I like to call things out and help my teammates know that the ball could be coming their way.”
Barker is also a leader in how he deflects the praise.
“I think a big key is our defensive line is doing a fantastic job,” Barker said. “They have improved tremendously and make my job super easy. I know no offensive lineman is coming to block me because our defensive line is holding them up. So, I can go straight to the running back.”
It just so happens, second-ranked Carolina Academy has a standout running back in Austin Brown. But to Barker, that is just another thing that makes football fun. It gives him another chance to make a tackle.
“That’s the best part,” said Barker, who also anchors PDA’s offensive line and is the team’s long-snapper.
“One hit gets me going,” he said. “Once I do it the first time, I just want more of it. I want the opposing running back of anybody’s team to know I’ll be there all night.”
While discussing what PDA must do to stop the Bobcats, Barker talked as if he was reciting his playbook.
“It’s all on our reads, and we’ve been working at it the past two days at practice,” he said. “Each man has to do his job; no man can do too much. The defensive linemen have got to hold up the linemen, the defensive ends have got to keep the ball inside. And the linebackers and safeties have to fill the holes.
“If we read it right, we should be in the correct spot.”
Sounds like a future coach, doesn’t he?
“I’ve honestly fallen in love with football. I think that’s what I want to do in life now,” Barker said. “I love the game so much and the concepts of the game.”
It’s also a family affair for the Barkers, as his grandparents temporarily moved from Ohio to watch his senior season.
And like every team, even his grandmother plays a role.
“She usually gets me the box of Cheez-Its each week before the game,” Barker said with a laugh.
How can Barker not laugh?
He’s having too much fun.