Former Sherando standout Barlow ends NFL dreams: At end of JMU's 2012 season, decides not to pursue pro career because of concussions
By Brad Fauber
Brian Barlow possesses the ability to play in the National Football League -- James Madison University head football coach Mickey Matthews is certain of that.
Barlow, a former Sherando football standout, spent five seasons playing for Matthews at JMU before his collegiate career ended last November, and Matthews raves about the physicality and toughness that the 6-foot-3, 255-pound tight end brought every time he stepped on the football field.
"He was a very physical player," Matthews said in a phone interview. "He was one of the nicest players we had off the field, but on the field he was mean as a snake."
That physicality drew the eye of NFL scouts, who saw Barlow as a good fit as a blocking fullback at the professional level, according to Matthews.
But there was also a downside to that physicality.
Barlow has taken more than his fair share of hits over the course of his football career, leading to several concussions and just a general wear and tear on his body. It is for that reason that Barlow decided that he wasn't going to pursue a chance at the NFL shortly after the Dukes' 2012 season ended in November.
"I just had years and years of contact. I played some very physical positions," Barlow said. "There were big collisions in every game. I just thought going forward that it was time to hang up my cleats."
The big hits for Barlow didn't just begin when he arrived at JMU in 2008. Barlow was a two-way player for head coach Bill Hall at Sherando during his high school career, playing both defensive end and tight end for the Warriors.
Barlow said the constant beating and banging that his body took throughout the years simply began to take its toll.
"I didn't like the feeling, and they started appearing more often," Barlow said of the head injuries he suffered during the course of his football career. "And it was a lot of wear and tear all over my entire body, not just my head."
Barlow said he discussed his decision to give up football with his parents, as well as with Hall, whom Barlow considers his mentor.
Hall was supportive of Barlow's decision to put his health first, and Hall said the decision speaks to the type of person that Barlow is, as not many players would be able to resist the allure of a potential NFL future, even if that meant putting their health at risk.
"I think it speaks volumes. I think in his heart of hearts he believed he could play at that level, and I think the coaching staff at JMU believed he could play at that level," Hall said. "But because of the fact that he did have health issues, it was a good decision."
Matthews agreed that Barlow's decision was the correct one, stating that Barlow "got his bell rung" numerous times during his career at JMU.
"I know he was having some headaches. He took some really big-time shots as a receiver," Matthews said. "We had to take him out of some games and let him clear his head. I think he knew he'd had enough."
Barlow spent most of his career at JMU at tight end and H-back, although he did play on the Dukes' special teams units during his redshirt freshman and sophomore seasons.
As a redshirt senior this past year, Barlow tied for the team lead with 30 catches and led the Dukes with 425 receiving yards. He also recorded three touchdown catches.
Barlow was also a physical blocker, and Matthews said NFL scouts continually showed interest in Barlow as a fullback at the professional level.
Barlow said the recent issues of concussions in the NFL and football in general played a part in his decision to pass up the opportunity.
"They keep finding out more and more about his issue. It's just something you don't want to deal with," Barlow said. "If you're messing with your brain ... it's just the last thing you want to deal with."
Barlow has not completely left the game of football -- he is currently a member of the Virginia State University football coaching staff as a graduate assistant, serving under former JMU tight ends coach Latrell Scott, who was named the head coach at VSU on Jan. 14.
Barlow is currently working towards getting his Master's degree in education from VSU, and he said coaching football could very well be a part of his future.
Backing out of his professional football dreams was a difficult choice for Barlow, but he said he was honored to simply be in the discussion of possibly playing with and against who he calls "the best athletes in the world" in the NFL.
"It wasn't an easy decision, but I think knowing the fact that I was even considered to be a guy who could play at the next level was crazy enough," Barlow said. "I just didn't want to risk anything else. I'm just honored that I was even considered."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org