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By Tommy Keeler Jr. - firstname.lastname@example.org
HARRISONBURG -- It wasn't easy for Brian Barlow to sit and watch during his redshirt freshman season.
Like any competitive athlete, the James Madison University redshirt junior would have loved to have been out on the field as a freshman. Three years later, the Sherando graduate understands how important that year was to help him become the player he is now.
"It was a great learning experience," Barlow said. "It gives you a chance to learn a lot of the things you need to know."
Barlow said even his redshirt freshman season was a great learning experience. He was the third-string tight end behind seniors Mike Caussin and Charlie Newman.
"They really helped me out, gave me a lot of tips on how to be successful," Barlow said. "I just wanted to learn as much as I could and try to be like those guys."
All of the things the 6-foot-3, 260-pound tight end learned in his first two seasons at JMU have certainly paid off.
Last year he became the Dukes' starter, and was having a strong season.
In the first five games, Barlow had a team-high eight receptions for 81 yards.
However, Barlow suffered an injury in a 17-13 win over Towson on Oct. 9.
He missed the next three games. JMU, which was 4-1 at the time, lost all three games Barlow missed.
"It really hurt us last year when he was injured against Towson," JMU coach Mickey Matthews said. "That was very tied to our offensive slump right there, because he missed those games.
"That's how important he is to us."
Barlow came back and played in the final three games, two of which were wins. He finished the season with 11 receptions for 114 yards.
With all the positive things Barlow did on the field, there is no question what the highlight of his season was -- JMU's 21-16 win over Virginia Tech on Sept. 11.
"That was unreal," Barlow said. "It was just a great day. It was so exciting. I'll never forget it. But it's a new year and you have to put it behind you."
Once the season was over, Barlow committed himself to getting even better, and it showed in the spring.
Matthews said Barlow was very impressive in the spring game.
"He's just an overall good football player," Matthews said. "He can run. You can line him up in a lot of spots. He's a good player. Our staff was very much of the opinion at the conclusion of spring training that he was our best football player."
Matthews said he believes Barlow could play in the NFL as an H-back.
Much will certainly be expected of Barlow this season. Barlow said he just wants to stay healthy and do what he can to help the team.
Helping the team win always comes first for Barlow.
"Catching the ball is fun. Blocking is fun, but winning is the most fun," he said.
JMU, which opens on Sept. 3 at North Carolina, has suffered through back-to-back 6-5 seasons and missed the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs both times.
Barlow said it's important for the team to turn things around this season and make the playoffs.
JMU is currently ranked No. 15 in the TSN FCS preseason poll and 16th in the FCS coaches poll.
Barlow said he just wants to keep getting better and help the program be successful.
"I'm just focused on trying to win every game," Barlow said. "I want to play every game like it could be my last."