Simon Fraser linebacker Griffin Barrett has his own definition of what legacy means to a university football team. (Photo by Paul Yates property of SFU athletics 2021. All Rights Reserved)
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A SUNDAY READ: In trying times for Simon Fraser football, an old school linebacker named Griffin Barrett defines legacy through his own actions on Seniors Night!!

BURNABY — He’s survived and thrived through three different coaching regimes with the Simon Fraser Football Team, but on Saturday night, at his home away from home atop Burnaby Mountain, you could say that for the first time, something actually caught up to Griffin Barrett: The pre-game Seniors Night festivities which marked the final home game of his heart-and-soul career.

And although Simon Fraser’s star middle linebacker had one of the best statistical nights of his entire collegiate career as he officially bid farewell to SFU Stadium at Terry Fox Field, in the aftermath of a hard-fought 24-7 loss to the Western Oregon Wolves, the humility and perspective of the Moose Jaw (Sask.) native remained as constant as his own ability to make tackles by the bushel.

And that’s why when the word ‘legacy’ is tossed his way in the tunnel just moments after he collected a game-high 17 tackles to further extend his lead atop the GNAC’s leaderboard with 50 over four games (12.5 tpg), his figurative response is more akin to him putting up those still-gloved hands for what can only be described as a classy pass deflection.

“Leaving a legacy to me doesn’t even mean leaving behind anything that has to do with my name,” said Barrett, recruited in 2017 by former head coach Kelly Bates, and now, after spending two seasons under former head coach Thomas Ford, is finishing up his SFU career under new boss Mike Rigell.

“To me, it has everything to do with setting a foundation for guys who want to work hard,” continued Barrett, who along with teammates Brendan Lowry and Drew Nicholson, lead an experienced Simon Fraser linebacking room which stands as the defence’s signature positional group.

A man at work, SFU middle linebacker Griffin Barrett (bottom) was hard at it Sunday, wracking up a game-high 17 tackles. (Photo by Garrett James property of Simon Fraser athletics 2021. All Rights Reserved)

On Saturday, SFU’s script in defeat followed a lot of this season’s narrative.

A gutsy defence which never quits, which demands the attention of the opposition offence… until it wears down and can’t quite find the extra gear it needs in the face of a deeper and more experienced foe.

Over what was an all-too-brief two-game home season, however, Barrett and his teammates did their utmost to offer hope to an underdog’s heart.

Like two fourth-down stops by the defence in the first half, like the rush of watching quarterback Justin Seiber connect on a 45-yard TD strike with another Seniors Day honouree in receiver Dallas Dixon.

Or like watching B.C. high school products Sam Davenport of Abbotsofrd’s Robert Bateman Secondary, and defensive halfback Kolby Buljevic of Burnaby’s St. Thomas More Collegiate hit huge upturns in play on offence and defence respectively.

Evan Nolli, a sophomore defensive tackle, is the kind of young talent senior linebacker Griffin Barrett speaks of when he stresses the importance of leaving a foundation for younger players to build on. (Photo by Garrett James property of Simon Fraser athletics 2021. All Rights Reserved)

And in Barrett’s case, how about the statistical accomplishments which have just seemed to follow him?

Remember, Barrett finished first in the GNAC tackling race in 2019, and third in 2018.

If he can add just a tiny giddy-up to his tackling pace here in 2021, he’s got a chance to not only annex a second conference tackling title, but also surpass the career-high 105 he had when he last played two seasons ago.

“For me, I really looked up to Jordan and Justin (Herdman-Reed),” he said of the Clan’s twin-brother linebacking tandem, now both playing in the CFL with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Jordan Herdman, in fact, won the GNAC tackling crown three straight seasons (2014-16), following hot on the heels of Casey Chin, the former New Westminster Hyack who also won it three straight seasons (2011-13).

“Really, I just want to lay a foundation as someone with a lot of passion to love this game, this school and this team, and to give everything you’ve got,” he said simply.

On Saturday, for the second straight week, Barrett helped lead a defence high on willingness, skill and guts but extremely shy on depth against a blue-chip opposition running back.

Last week, in a 36-14 loss to Central Washington, the SFU defence did all it could until wearing down in the fourth quarter and ultimately allowing Wildcats’ running back Rashaad Boddie to carry 25 times for 279 yards and three touchdowns.

One week later, in what must have seemed to Barrett and his teammates like a gridiron Groundhog Day, Western Oregon won by a similar margin, this time behind running back Omari Land, who carried an identical 25 times for 209 yards and two touchdowns.

But hey, if you’re a middle linebacker with any kind of pride in who you want to play your final two games at home… a guy who once posed on his team’s media day with a golden shovel placed over his shoulders, why wouldn’t it be against two guys just like Boddie and Land?

Barrett begins to grin.

On the occasion of team photo day back in 2019, Griffin Barrett holds close a symbol of his blue-collar work ethic. (Photo by Kendra Ho property of Simon Fraser athletics 2019. All Rights Reserved)

“Yeah absolutely,” he says. Playing guys like Omari and  Rashaad last week with Central, those guys are fantastic players, great guys to play against and we really study them on film and have to prepare for a lot of things we’ll come up against with them.”

Yet while Barrett is often times the guy getting the notice when a stop is made, he goes to great lengths to explain why he’s just the one who happens to come in at the end.

“It’s a whole unit thing out there, and it’s not just about individual plays,” he says. “It’s because of those guys in front of me that I am able to do my thing, and then the back-end players like (SAM linebacker and fellow senior Brendan) Lowry, and (halfback) Kolby (Buljevic), they do a great job of seeing the field. And a guy like (safety) Evan Currie is another  guy who has really stepped up big for us.”

Buljevic , Currie, WILL ‘backer Drew Nicholson, corner Jerrell Cummings, safety J.P. Verdugo and tackle Evan Nolli are some of the defensive notables who are back next season.

Odds are, their own Seniors Night experiences are going to include some mention or recognition of Barrett and the mentoring role he was able to play in their careers.

How can it not?

In the end, we’re talking about an SFU program which has to pour the right foundation first if it is ever going to end its chase for relevancy in NCAA Div. 2 football.

And to do it, they need more guys like the senior middle linebacker who doesn’t even want his name mentioned.

Think about that for a second.

When it comes to leaving a legacy based on actions and not ego, can there be a better example?

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