Mohamed Barry, who's often quick to speak his mind, takes issue with some comments Dedrick Mills' former junior-college coach made recently in a Journal Star article.
When ex-Garden City (Kansas) Community College head coach Jeff Sims spoke openly May 13 about what Mills needed to do academically before he could transfer to Nebraska, it struck a nerve with Barry, a Husker senior inside linebacker.
Sims said Mills spent the past several weeks trying to raise his GPA to a cumulative 2.5, the required minimum needed to transfer to Division I. Sims generally had his facts straight. But that wasn't the problem, Barry said. The issue, he said, was a coach laying out those facts publicly.
"As players, we respect our coaches as men," Barry told the Journal Star last week. "If any person you respect embarrasses you in front of the world, you take that to heart. When you're talking about academics, people correlate that to, 'Oh, is he smart or stupid?' You can say something about his football -- that doesn't matter as much -- but when you say something about their academics, you're really challenging them as a person.
"I didn't like that stuff. I mean, that's going to be my future teammate."
Although there's been no official word on Mills' situation with NU, it looks promising for both parties. As for Barry, he feels empathy for the touted running back because he's been in his shoes. Barry felt vulnerability and, yes, embarrassment during the summer of 2015 when it became public that Barry's grades at Grayson (Georgia) High School weren't good enough to be admitted to certain schools.
"A lot of schools gave up on me," Barry said. "Nebraska stuck with me and recruited me even when I was in a vulnerable position. I was about to go to a junior college. I was praying to God that I got an 'A' in a class in the summer that allowed me to get into Nebraska."
Those feelings of embarrassment fueled Barry during the past few years. But that wasn't the only fuel. He admits he wasn't a good student in high school, but his determination to redeem himself in college helped produce a satisfying result May 4, when he was handed his bachelor's degree in ethnic studies. He's proud of his 3.2 grade-point average, as he should be.
"When all that stuff happened (in 2015), there are two things I could've done: I could've cried about it, went to a juco and let it ruin my life. Or I could take that summer class, kick its ass, and then go to school in Nebraska and make sure I'm a great student here, as well as a football player," Barry said.
"I'm not going to ever play the role of someone who's the victim of anything," he added. "I'm here every day trying to prove myself, whether it's football, school or as a citizen. I'm trying to better myself."
His teammates surely notice all he's done: be it earning his degree, or recording a team-leading 112 tackles last season, or stepping up to speak to media in good times and bad. Teammates may even notice how he bristles in reaction to a coach's detailed assessment of Mills' academic situation. Barry seemingly has what it takes to be a team leader.
But there's a distinction in this discussion that's important to Barry. Although he embraces the notion of being a leader, he plays down the possibility of being a team captain in 2019.
"For some reason, I don't get into popularity," he said, noting his propensity to speak the truth even when it creates discomfort.
Bottom line, "I just think it's important to work your hardest and not be out-worked, either on or off the field, and then don't get in trouble with coach (Scott) Frost," he added. "Then, you make plays and prove yourself on the field. After that, you have the formula to win. If your men want to listen to something outside of that, then I don't know ..."
His voice trails off.
"I think at the end of the day, a leader has to prove himself each and every day."
His teammates may or may not understand the academic challenges that Barry faced as a youth. Born in Atlanta in 1996, he was sent to the Republic of Guinea on Africa’s west coast as a 1-year-old to live with his grandmother, following his family’s tradition of growing up in their homeland. He moved back to Atlanta to begin kindergarten and was immediately at a disadvantage because in Guinea he was taught mostly French, Creole and Arabic.
He had trouble understanding English.
"I think it just led to me not being attracted to school at a young age because I thought it was not for me," he said. "When someone's saying something and you don't even know what they're saying -- I just didn't care for it."
Let's be clear: Barry doesn't make excuses. It's not his style at all. He acknowledges that in high school, "School wasn't at the top of my list." But he became focused on academics in college. No question, redemption can be a powerful motivator. So can the desire to prove people wrong. In that sense, he's happy his academic issues became public knowledge in 2015 because it made all those Academic All-Big Ten honors -- in 2016, 2017 and 2018 -- that much more satisfying.
As the honors accumulated, he thought of the college programs that rejected him (including Wisconsin, one of his original favorites).
"Every time I'd get an honor, I was just laughing -- laughing at them," Barry said.
Yes, he speaks his mind. With a bachelor's degree in hand, his words carry that much more weight.