When Kadiatou Bah takes the field at Memorial Stadium this weekend, there will probably be tears running down her cheeks. Her son graduated with his degree in ethnic studies in May, and he’ll play his last home game for Nebraska Friday afternoon against Iowa. Mohamed Barry might follow his mother’s lead, but then again he might not. Bah knows it will be emotional for Barry regardless of whether he lets himself show it.
“Mo loves Nebraska,” she said. “He loves the school. He has a connection with them. For him, Friday will be huge.”
Friday will be about Barry. But, it’ll also be about his mom. She’ll be right there with him as he makes good on a five-year-old promise.
The Huskers’ senior inside linebacker had a Wisconsin scholarship pulled in the recruiting process. Concerns over academics. Such concerns seem a little foolish if you look into his background.
Barry’s mother immigrated to the US. Barry spent part of his childhood in the Republic of Guinea. He’s multilingual. He always tried. Bah remembers Barry bartering grades for football when he was younger, a deal he always made good on. (Those ball bins at Walmart? When Barry was a young child, he would grab a football and Bah would try and replace it with a basketball, fearing the physicality of the former. Barry resisted every time.)
When the Badgers were off the table, Barry turned to Nebraska. Lincoln was a ways away from the family home in Grayson, Georgia, but Nebraska showed faith in Barry. They gave him a path forward. He’s often said the university gave him a chance when no others would.
“He trusts them,” Bah said. “He promised me he’s going to do his best by them because they gave him a chance.”
Barry comes from a religious home. Bah told him things were happening for a reason. “I believe if a door is closed, God will open the one he wants you to go through,” she said. “So, this was the door God wanted Mohamed to go.”
And despite losing and coaching changes and more losing, Barry hasn’t regretted that promise.
When head coach Scott Frost came back to Lincoln, Barry was one of the first players in his office asking what needed to be done. There was never a thought about leaving.
When the team was sliding to begin 2018, staring 0-4 in the face and looking out over a cliff, Barry spoke out in a team meeting called only by the four senior captains and intended only for them to speak. He had the capital to do so. After the seniors told the rest of the team things were going to be changing, Barry took it upon himself to let his teammates know those changes were going to be permanent.
When an outside linebacker moved over to inside ‘backer to help depth last offseason, Barry taught him the position rather than treating him as a threat to his starting role. “He met with me basically every day, watching film, watching keys, talking communication and what I need to see,” Collin Miller said. “Some guys could say ‘Screw you, I’m going to worry about myself,’ but no, he knows.”
Before his senior year began, his teammates voted him a captain.
All his life Barry has handled adversity rather than run from it.
“That’s Mohamed,” Bah says.
Nebraska has a chance to make a bowl game Friday. It would be the Huskers’ first since 2016. Barry has a shot at back-to-back seasons with 100 tackles. Last year he made third-team All-Big Ten. When Barry and Bah talk, though, some of his proudest moments come off the field.
He tells her about hospital visits, the latest coming Wednesday afternoon. He’s a four-year member of the Tom Osborne and Brook Berringer Citizenship Teams. He’s been a Nebraska scholar-athlete honor roll member four times. He’s been on the Academic All-Big Ten team three straight years and he’s looking for a fourth.
“He’s proud of everything he did there,” Bah says. “He works hard. Mohamed does not like you to give him anything, he likes you to let him earn it. That’s how he is. He doesn’t want to be given something, let him work for it.”
For five years, Barry has worked to make Nebraska better.
“Looking back on my career at Nebraska, one word comes to mind, and it’s adversity,” he said in a senior tribute put out by the Huskers Wednesday afternoon. “It’s something that I’ve experienced here, it’s something that has groomed me and made me turn into the man I am today. And it’s something I’m thankful for.”
Bah is proud of how often people in Lincoln tell her what a good person—not just football player—her son is. Friday, before business starts, the two will get to celebrate for a few moments. The senior will come out of the tunnel for the last time. He’ll shake Frost’s hand. He’s probably going to hug his mom. And she’s probably going to be crying.
“I thank the University of Nebraska for having him,” she said. “I thank the people of Nebraska for loving and caring about my son, everybody in Nebraska. I thank them for having him and helping mold him to be a man. He left my house when he was a boy, and now he’s a man.”
“I am extremely, extremely proud of him. I don’t have words to say. I’m so happy that he’s my son. God gave him to me, and I’m so happy that I’m his mom. I’m proud of him every day. Everything he told me he was going to do, he’s doing it. I’m proud of that.”
Nebraska’s better for giving him that path.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.