By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — It was nothing new when Fred Barr played an integral role in reversing the fortunes of the University of Iowa football program.
Barr — along with high school teammate Colin Cole — helped do the same at Plantation South (Florida) High School a few years earlier.
“If you’re already a champion and you’re on a team that didn’t have to work to get there, you don’t know what it takes,” Barr said. “You don’t appreciate it as much.”
Barr, who played linebacker for Iowa from 1999-2002, will serve as honorary captain Saturday when the Hawkeyes host North Texas in its final nonconference game of the regular season. Iowa enters the game with a record of 2-0; Barr wasn’t part of two college football victories until his 17th game, and win No. 2 was a career highlight.
The Hawkeyes (0-5) hosted No. 25 Michigan State (3-1) for Homecoming on Oct. 7, 2000. Barr had eight tackles and Iowa scored 14 unanswered points to win, 21-16. It was the first Big Ten victory for head coach Kirk Ferentz.
“To have the field rushed, the atmosphere that day was electric,” Barr said. “The way the game progressed was beautiful. That was the turning point to where everybody on the team realized we could win. That game had a lot of buzz about it in the locker room.
“When we left (Kinnick Stadium) we went back to our rooms and talked about knowing we could win. We proved it against a good Michigan State team.”
The Hawkeyes won twice more in 2000, then went 7-5 in 2001 and won the SYLVANIA Alamo Bowl. In 2002, Iowa was 11-2 and played in the FedEx Orange Bowl.
“We felt we were going to be good (in 2002), but you never know until you hike the ball,” Barr said. “The way the season progressed and overcoming adversity of the Purdue game — that was a turning mark for us. We didn’t want any more close games, so we went to the Big House (Michigan) and that was a clear show of that (34-9 victory).”
Barr decided to attend Iowa, then convinced Cole to follow. One of Barr’s first positive impressions about Iowa City came in an unusual place — the bathroom of a restaurant.
“(Iowa) was my first official visit,” Barr said. “I went out that night and a guy recognized me; for someone to recognize me — I took unofficials to Miami, Florida State, Florida. There, I was just another number.”
On the last day of his official visit, Barr saw something for the first time that indicated Iowa was the place for him.
“I grew up in a church, so when I got ready to take the trip I prayed about it,” Barr said. “I had never seen snow before and it flurried enough to look beautiful. I took it as a sign that this is where I wanted to be.”
Barr lives in Des Moines, Iowa, and reflects often on lessons he learned from being part of Ferentz’s program.
“Being better as a person and competing at life,” Barr said. “The lessons you learn here aren’t just about football. The biggest thing they try to prepare you for is life after football.”
But Barr and the Hawkeyes obviously learned football lessons as well. Iowa went form 1-10 in 1999 to being one win from a berth in the national championship game in 2002.
“It almost makes you want to cry,” Barr said. “You remember those dog days — the years of not going to a bowl game and then to get to that point after working so hard is euphoria. Gosh, that scene of being in Minnesota (to clinch the Big Ten championship in 2002), the crowd, how loud it was, the roses going everywhere, and everybody had smiles.”