11/26/08 — Opinion -- Barden's absence is missed

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Opinion -- Barden's absence is missed

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on November 26, 2008 1:46 PM

During my 15 months at the News-Argus I've had the privilege of witnessing some exciting ballgames, getting to know coaches and players who excel both on and off the field and covering outstanding teams, including one national champion.

From a sports perspective, I have an incredible amount to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. However, there's one moment -- one chilly afternoon last December -- that will forever stand out above the rest.

I rode out to James Kenan to interview Tigers noseguard Derrick Barden, the 2007 News-Argus Defensive Player of the Year. Little did I know it would be the first and last time I would have the fortune of interviewing Barden. He lost his life in the early hours of July 3 after getting shot while standing outside Stewart's Creek Apartments in Warsaw.

As I got out of my car that day, there was Barden standing on Bill Taylor Field proudly wearing his jersey with no need for a coat or long sleeves. His 5-foot-7, 185-pound frame made him look more like a point guard than a noseguard.

Barden had just completed a junior season in which he compiled 83 tackles, 90 assists, seven sacks, 11 hurries and a fumble recovery. He was part of a defense that allowed less than seven points a game, pitched four shutouts and helped the Tigers to a 16-0 season -- which included a state title.

A quiet young man, I recall having to ask Barden to speak up a bit and he quickly answered every question I tossed his way with references to his teammates and the Tigers' defense as a whole. I quickly realized that though he was just a junior in high school, Derrick Barden had long sensed grasped what it meant to be a teammate.

Barden didn't begin playing football until ninth grade as a running back on Kenan's JV squad. After spending time at linebacker as a sophomore, Barden was asked to move to noseguard for his junior season. Without hesitation or a thought toward his own desires, Barden made the move and instantly turned into a game-changer.

A story head coach Ken Avent Jr. told me with a smile that day captured the essence of who Barden was not just as a player but as a person. Avent Jr. would line his players up on game days to hand out uniform pants. Most of the Tigers would ask for smaller pants and jostle for position in line in hopes of getting the size they preferred.

Everyone except for Darden.

"He would always say, 'I don't care, just give me something to put on and let's go play,'" said Avent Jr.

In the days following his death, Barden was remembered as a quiet student that consistently got his work done and stayed out of trouble. He was a breath of fresh air in a time when model students are quickly becoming more of an exception than the rule.

Derrick Barden didn't have time to be weighed down by circumstances, personal accolades or the size of his football pants.

In a short time on one December afternoon I learned lessons from a total stranger that I pray will forever impact who I am.

The opportunity to spend a few minutes with number 52, that's what I'm thankful for.