Next stop for West Virginia's 'agile big kid,' Don Barclay?

Orange Bowl will mark end of an era for WVU's Barclay, who never guessed he would advance this far on the field

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When high school coach Ron Butschle first saw a young Don Barclay in a preseason workout, he knew there was something there.

It was the summer of 2004 at a practice for Seneca Valley High School.

Barclay was tall. Moved like an athlete. He was quiet but worked hard.

"I knew when he worked out on that field, he was a football player. There was something there," said Butschle, now the head coach at Sto-Rox. "I knew he was going to grow. He was very agile for a big kid. He had great feet and he was tough."

Barclay himself hadn't a clue what his future would hold.

He was just a kid from suburban Cranberry who still played baseball and basketball and had meatball-eating contests with his Dad once in a while.

Fifty-one college football games, 100 pounds of grit and one all-Big East selection later, Barclay will play his final game for West Virginia at left tackle in the Orange Bowl -- marking the end of an era and a clip of time he has treasured.

"I've been waiting for this for four years," Barclay said with a knowing smile. "We worked so hard for this. This has been our goal."

Barclay is regarded as the best pass protector on the Mountaineers line.

His agility and quickness at 310 pounds makes him invaluable to an offense that loves to throw with a pocket passer like Geno Smith.

His strength and mobility hint of a career on Sundays down the road.

But Barclay's beginnings were humble.

Turned away from Pop-Warner for being too big, he started playing football just before high school.

He played third base in baseball and practiced in the basement with a basketball whenever he had time.

"He'd be down in the basement doing ball-handling drills when he was 5," said his father, also named Don. "He'd be like, 'Dad, do you think I'll make it?' I think they both helped agility wise."

Agreed, said Butschle, who quickly saw Barclay's remarkable agility for a big kid.

"His feet were so good as a high school player," Butschle said. "He had basketball feet on an offensive tackle's body. That's his biggest asset and what's probably made him so successful.

"He's an unbelievable pass protector. I think maybe in four, five years, I've only seen him get really beaten two or three times. I think that's going to make him attractive for the NFL draft."

By the spring of Barclay's junior year, multiple programs came calling: Pitt, Notre Dame, North Carolina State, Connecticut, Temple, Michigan State, Cincinnati and more.

Rich Rodriguez, then head coach at West Virginia, also was interested.

On a visit to Morgantown for a spring practice, Barclay knew.

"He turned to me and goes, 'Mom this is football. If they offer me, I'm going here. Just look at them," recalled his mother, Dana Barclay.

He committed verbally quite early -- in May of his junior year, and there it began.

West Virginia reached the Fiesta Bowl during Barclay's redshirt season. He traveled with the team but didn't play.

Barclay, along with his class, then went though the first of two more head coaching changes. In all, he has had three offensive line coaches and several memorable games along the way.

But one singular goal remained in his mind since setting foot on campus five years ago: returning to a BCS bowl game.

On the day West Virginia's BCS future became all but official, Barclay watched Cincinnati pound Connecticut with teammates Tyler Urban, Pat Eger and Josh Jenkins.

"I was really excited, calling my family my friends," Barclay said. "I've been waiting for this for four years. It's nice to have it your senior season."

For Barclay's family, it will mark the end of an era.

During their son's career, his parents have missed but a handful of road games.

They already dealt with the emotions of attending his last home game, when West Virginia beat Pitt in what may be the last Backyard Brawl for some time.

"I said, 'Donnie, I can't believe this is the last time you're going to be on this field,' " his father said. "He goes, 'Dad, it's going to be the last time for a lot of things today.' You knew what he was thinking about."

Barclay's uncle, Al Pisula, might miss it the most.

A defensive tackle at West Virginia in the late 1970s -- he played with Oliver Luck and Darrell Talley -- Pisula has a bond with Barclay that runs deep.

He brings a loaded RV to every home game and fixes his eyes on No. 64 on the line at the snap.

"It won't be the same with him not being there," Pisula said.

"It was sort of the highlight of all the years I've been going down there. Next year it just won't be the same. But it was a fun five years."

The whole clan will be in Miami for one more game -- including his younger brother, who is a team manager, and extended family.

And then they'll hope for his future.

"I don't want to put any pressure on him. But he's a true guard in the NFL," Pisula said. "He's the kind of guy who could get on a team and be there for 10 years. He's just a good player."

Barclay will prepare for his future later this winter when the West Virginia flag that marks the front door of his family home comes down.

"It goes up in August, it comes down after the bowl game," his dad said.

But for now, it's all about the Orange Bowl.

"If you asked me in high school, no, I never would have guessed I'd be in this situation," Barclay said. "To go out with these players and coaches is special."

Jenn Menendez: .


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