Published: December 27, 2012
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As a lineman in football, Lackawanna Trail senior Justin Barber is accustomed to working hard in the trenches, but often going unnoticed until the game film is picked apart thoroughly after the fact.
During his first time wrestling for the Lions, on Wednesday, Dec. 12, when Lackawanna Trail paid a visit to Lake Lehman, he quickly found all eyes were on him.
"By the luck of the draw, I got to go out there first," Barber said.
The heavyweight bout went off first and as spectators looked on at the well-lit mat at Lake-Lehman, the Lions senior got to make his varsity wrestling debut under the glare of the spotlight. With all the fans watching, just him and his opponent, Barber shook off any sense of nervousness he may have felt by disposing of Austin Perry in less than a minute.
"I went for a single-leg takedown and got the pin in (41) seconds," Barber said.
Just like that, a wrestling career began.
Deciding to come out for the wrestling team, for the first time, as a senior, Barber wasn't sure what to expect. He was used to being eyed up by the wrestling coaches as someone who had the athleticism to be successful in that sport.
But Barber opted not to go out for the sport, instead playing basketball for his first two high school years.
After spending the winter of his junior season in the weight room, Barber had bulked up in pursuit of his favorite sport, football, where he had been a standout for the Lions.
"I played basketball in ninth and 10th grade, but going into my junior year, I decided to focus on football," Barber said. "A lot of people tried to get me into wrestling, but because I thought football was my best way of getting a scholarship, I remained focused on lifting and getting ready for football."
The driven Barber was looking for something different for his senior project, seeking to combine his love of sports with his academics, and came up with a novel idea. The wrestling program ended up as a beneficiary.
He was able to combine his athletic prowess, the ability to stay in shape, and learning about a new sport and buckling down to do lots of hard work, getting the go-ahead to make wrestling his senior project.
"I was a bit surprised," first-year wrestling coach Mike Petherick said. "I had heard some murmurs that he would be coming out for the team. It's a sport where it's not common to come out for the first time in your senior year. It's not for everybody."
But Barber showed promise in his early workouts, going after the skills of his new athletic outlet with the desire he has for football.
"He has been dedicating himself to the sport," Petherick said. "He has been working hard."
The coaches have seen first-hand how well Barber has worked, sometimes being on the wrong end of the senior's athleticism.
"There aren't a lot of big bodies in the wrestling room, so he's been working against the coaches," Petherick said. "He's getting more comfortable, and is picking up the sport well."
He has found that being in shape for football is a little different than being in shape for wrestling, a slight adjustment, but one that makes a difference on the mat.
"It's a change of pace," Barber said. "I'm used to playing for 10 seconds and getting a minute off. Now it's wrestle for a minute and get 10 seconds off."
"It's a different conditioning," Petherick said.
Barber has unleashed some of the things that made him an all-star lineman, carrying the intangibles into wrestling to help him make the adjustment to his new sport go smoother.
"My being physical, my determination, my quickness, those things help in wrestling," Barber said.
Of course, all the jousting along the offensive and defensive lines in football served him well in wrestling, getting in the proper mindset needed to win the hand-to-hand combat that can often determine a play's success or failure.
"There's a lot of leverage, using your hands," Barber said. "There are a lot of things that are like being a lineman."
Barber is used to breaking down technique, and has shown the ability to grasp the finer points of his new sport. As a result, he has confidence.
"I'm really focused," Barber said. "I think I can be competitive, to be competitive for a district title this year."
The inner drive spurs Barber in football, and now in wrestling. The senior is just hoping to achieve success like he did in his first bout of the season.