By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
First in a three-part series profiling the top finalists for the 2010 Walter Payton Award.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - After Matt Barr helped lead Western Illinois to a FCS playoff victory - which included scoring the winning touchdown - a Coastal Carolina defender admitted something to the quarterback.
On a few plays, the defender forgot Barr is left-handed and misplayed potential tackles.
Before the season, it was easy to forget how good Western Illinois could be behind Barr's lead. He reminded everybody while developing into a finalist for the Walter Payton Award, which honors the outstanding player in the Football Championship Subdivision.
The announcement of the Payton Award, presented by The Sports Network and sponsored by Fathead.com, will be made at the 24th Annual FCS Awards Banquet on Thursday night, Jan. 6 in Frisco, Texas. Barr, Stephen F. Austin quarterback Jeremy Moses and Appalachian State quarterback DeAndre Presley are among the top three vote-getters and will be in attendance for the announcement of the winner.
Barr felt helpless while the Leathernecks, who had winning seasons when he started as both a freshman in 2007 and a sophomore in 2008, suffered their worst campaign - 1-10 - since 1944. He then graduated last spring with an accounting degree, a 3.85 grade point average and the Lincoln-Laureate Academic Award, which is the highest academic honor for a football player at an Illinois four-year institution. But he returned this fall as a graduate student, with hopes of completing unfinished business on the playing field.
"Having a season-ending injury my junior year kind of reinforces the old adage in football that every play could be your last. You have to go out there and play every play like it is your last," Barr said.
His relentless style as both a runner and passer directed Western Illinois' no-huddle offense. The Leathernecks posted a 7-4 regular season and reached the FCS playoffs in Mark Hendrickson's first full season as head coach. They beat Coastal Carolina in the first round and bowed out in the second round against Appalachian State.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Barr finished the regular season ranked second in the nation in passing efficiency rating (163.35), fifth in total offense (316.9 yards per game) and fifth in passing yardage per game (279.9). The Missouri Valley Football Conference Offensive Player of the Year completed 203-of-329 passes (61.7 percent) for 3,079 yards, 26 touchdowns and five interceptions, and rushed for 407 yards and five touchdowns.
"He's a great athlete that plays the quarterback position the way every coach wants a quarterback to play it," Hendrickson said.
"When the offense is running at its best, I'm distributing the football to my playmakers on the perimeter," Barr said. "We're running the ball well, trying to get everybody involved. Guys are making plays and the offensive line is protecting and providing a great pocket for me. It's just a really comfortable feeling. The game really slows down and it seems like everywhere I look I've got open targets and places to put the football.
"It's been a lot of fun and I'm really proud of the team and the great turnaround that we've had."