As a sought-after offensive lineman at Seneca Valley preparing for the college recruiting process, Cranberry native Don Barclay had a few schools interested in him, but as he began the next chapter of his football and academic career, one thing remained important to him: home.
"I really wanted to stay close to home," Barclay said. "I was looking back home at Pittsburgh. I got offered by N.C. State and looked at a couple of other Big East schools and MAC schools."
Instead, the Seneca Valley grad opted for West Virginia University. With its perch as one of the top teams in the Big East Conference and just a 90-minute drive from him hometown, it was a perfect fit for Barclay and his family. Barclay’s parents, Don and Dana Barclay, haven't missed a game yet.
On Saturday, the six-foot-four, 310-pound offensive tackle will begin his final Big East schedule with a match-up against Connecticut. The Mountaineers are 4-1 and rank 16th in the nation in the Associated Press college football poll. Barclay, a three-year starter, has been a big part of that.
WVU opened its season 3-0 with victories over Marshall, Norfolk State and Maryland. The first stumbling block of the season was a mighty one. The team was defeated, 47-21, against then No. 2-ranked Louisiana State University.
"It was a great competition facing a team like LSU,” Barclay said. “They may be one of the best defenses we'll face all year and have great talent.”
On Oct. 1, the Barclay-led offensive line paved the way for 360 rushing yards in a 55-10 victory over Bowling Green. Saturday's game will begin a stretch of seven consecutive match-ups against conference opponents, with the Mountaineers looking to defend their Big East championship. Although he was red-shirted during the school’s championship run in 2007, Barclay has helped West Virginia win two league titles since his arrival in Morgantown.
"Once you get to conference play it's a whole different mentality. People get hyped up for every game," he said. "The defenses in our conference are among the nation's best, so we have to be ready each and every week."
The high level of play he faced as a lineman at Seneca Valley prepared him for the tough competition at the collegiate level, he said.
"It was definitely good competition back home in Class AAAA. Every week you were playing someone good, whether it was North Allegheny, North Hills ... everyone like that." Barclay said. "A lot of times you go against a lot of guys who you know are going to go Division I in college, and it was a good experience for me."
Surprisingly, so were the coaching changes at WVU. Rich Rodriguez, Barclay’s first coach, resigned after the 2007 season. He gave way to Bill Stewart, who spent three seasons on the field. Stewart’s successor, Dana Holgorsen, took the reins this season.
Barclay has had three offensive line coaches during his college career. Although the rotation had potential to be a hindrance, it has turned into a good experience for Barclay. The senior player said he tried to take a little knowledge from each coach – to his benefit. Barclay is one of 65 players up for the Outland Trophy, which is given to the nation's top interior lineman. He also was named to the 2011 All Big East preseason team this year.
"At the end of the day you have all those tools in your toolbox. I've liked every coach I've had, especially (current offensive line) coach (Bill) Bedenbaugh,” Barclay said. “He's intense and really gets us ready to play. He makes us successful by preparing us and teaching us how to prepare."
That preparation is key for a student-athlete. Besides being a leader on the field, Barclay balances classes, study halls, road trips, practices, film study and treatments to stay healthy. It makes for a long day
"If you want to be good at it, you really can't be goofing off and partying," he said. "You really have to stay focused."
Barclay will graduate in May with a degree in business management, but he hopes to put that on hold while he follows his dreams to the National Football League. NFL mock drafts have the West Virginia lineman being selected between the third to sixth round in April's draft. For now, Barclay hopes to finish the season strong. Then he’ll focus on the draft.
"That's why you play football." Barclay said of playing in the NFL. "You have to want to play at the next level, and I'm going to try to do that. I'm looking to have a great year and train after the season, and we'll see where it takes me from there."