Mohamed Barry arrived in Lincoln in 2015 and sat out his first season, redshirting while rehabbing after shoulder surgery.
As a redshirt freshman, he contributed mostly on special teams, where five of his six tackles happened.
Last season, he began as a backup linebacker behind starters Chris Weber and Dedrick Young II. He ended up starting two games and closed the season strong, recording 29 of his 38 tackles in the second half of the season.
On Saturday, Nebraska could hardly afford to take the 6-foot-1, 230-pound junior off the field. He started the game and led the Huskers with 12 tackles including one for loss and also recorded a quarterback hurry.
After paying his dues and working his way up the depth chart, Barry has become a key part of the new-look Nebraska defense.
“Mo’s a great player, he’s going to be a great player,” said Young, a senior who came in with Barry in 2015 and has been his roommate. “It’s just good for him to be out there and everything he’s worked for is paying off.”
Every time Barry made a solid tackle, he popped up quickly and let out a roar. Any time another member of the defense made a big play, he was one of the first ones there to celebrate with him. He was all over the field, making plays from sideline to sideline, in the backfield and downfield.
“He’s definitely one of those energy guys that wants everybody to be exceptional,” senior defensive end Freedom Akinmoladun said. “It’s really nice to have a guy like him around because a team definitely needs a person like that to have a really great defense.”
Barry was certainly excited to be back on the field, and perhaps an extra week of anticipation after missing out on a chance to play the previous week spilled out a little on Saturday. But don’t use the word “fun” around Barry to talk about the loss.
“The fun is in the winning,” Barry said. “Fun — I don’t like to use that word. It’s just too nonchalant of a word; I don’t know. I think winning would have been fun … I had a great feeling, of course, that entire game with my dudes just making plays. But getting that win is the most important thing. We dominated them offensively. Defensively, we dominated. We shoulda, woulda, coulda won that game. I believe in this team and we’re going to make a huge improvement from game one to game two, so that’s what matters.”
Barry has high hopes and expectations for this defense, and in the grand scheme of things, getting the start and having a career game didn’t mean all that much to Barry because of the result.
“I knew I could become what kind of player I am since I came here,” Barry said. “In that sense, [the start] didn’t mean anything. I just want this defense to be dominant and when that happens, that’s going to mean a lot. That’s what’s more important — that we win and that our defense dominates every team we play.”
Barry may have believed he had the talent to be a difference-maker from the moment he stepped on campus, but he’s willing to admit something has changed in his game from last year to this one.
“Just confidence and that’s it,” Barry said. “I think that confidence — like Coach [Scott Frost] gave us the speech about self-efficacy, which means believing in yourself and confidence. That alone could determine someone’s performance and his abilities. I have tons of confidence; I felt the confidence from Coach [Barrett] Ruud, from Coach Chins [Erik Chinander], and I just went out there and played my game.”
A new sense of confidence isn’t a coincidence; the new coaches have worked hard to bring that out in Barry and the rest of the players.
“Since they came here, they just told me they believe in me and all that,” Barry said. “To hear that, you want to play for them, you want to make them proud, you want to make your coaches proud, you want to make your family and the state of Nebraska proud.”
Ruud, Barry’s position coach at inside linebacker, has had an especially big impact and Barry has really taken to Ruud’s teaching methods and personality.
“Just smash-mouth; he wants to see us dominate,” Barry said. “That’s the biggest thing with him. It’s all about how you do your job, it’s not only doing. He knows that we’re smart, that all the linebackers in that group are smart, but we have to attack, attack, and he preaches that all the time. If we don’t do that, if we don’t hit, if we don’t get off blocks, if we don’t have effort practices, then he’s going to get on us. That’s the biggest thing. Football, sometimes we overcomplicate it but it comes down to those little particulars.”
Doing the little things should certainly be a focus as far too many self-inflicted wounds resulted in a loss against the Buffaloes, but Barry has no doubt the team is going to clean that stuff up.
Just remember, when you see Barry flying across the field, laying a big hit or celebrating with a teammate, he’s not having fun. The fun will come later, once Nebraska has a convincing win under its belt.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.