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Barrett's route a road less traveled

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Shaquill Barrett had one of those picture-is-worth-several-thousand-words moments Friday.

As one of the Denver Broncos rookies, Barrett is one of the team's new guys, an undrafted player who finished his college career just up Interstate 25 at Colorado State. But NFL rosters are full of stories, bumpy roads or the struggles that shape people or crush them, depending on how it all turns out.

And Barrett quietly carried the flag for his own past, for his story, after Friday's practice with a T-shirt that had "Boys Town wrestling" emblazoned across his sternum. And Boys Town is the Omaha, Nebraska, boarding school for at-risk children who have far bigger items to wrestle with than whether professional football will ever be an option.

For many of this nation's 80-somethings, Boys Town was Spencer Tracy's Academy Award-winning role in the 1938 Hollywood version. For Barrett, it was, he says, why he was standing just outside the Broncos' complex with a family of his own "that I want to provide for, be that example for them."

Barrett spent just over two years, his last two of high school, at Boys Town. A Baltimore native, Barrett said he hadn't yet found real trouble when the decision was made to go to Nebraska to finish out high school, but that it was closing in fast on the horizon, getting close enough each day to affect what his future would be.

"Baltimore city is rough, everywhere pretty much, there are plenty of opportunities for you to be where you shouldn't be, doing what you shouldn't be doing," Barrett said. "But I wasn't really involved in all that. My brother [Kevin] had gone [to Boys Town] a couple years before me, and I'm close with him. And I was getting lazy at home, kind of went for more structure.

"I wasn't going to football practice in Baltimore, wasn't doing what I should have been in school," Barrett said. "And the chances of me playing football my junior year or anything else productive with school was slim. I wasn't on the right track, I needed structure. I was headed the wrong way."

At Boys Town, Barrett was the MVP of the state's all-star game in his senior year. He went on to play at Nebraska-Omaha. However, following his freshman season the school eliminated its football program and Barrett found his way to Colorado State.

He was the Mountain West Conference's defensive player of the year this past season -- he finished with 20.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks -- and showed enough for the Broncos to sign him after he had gone undrafted last weekend.

"[The Broncos] were at the top of my list so I didn't really consider a lot of other offers," Barrett said. "I only considered the Steelers because [former CSU linebacker and later assistant coach] Joey Porter, our coach from CSU, went out there this year. So those were the top two but the Broncos seemed like the better fit ... I heard from [the Broncos] throughout the draft, before the draft. The Steelers, they wanted me. But the Broncos they called and sounded really serious about me and I liked the opportunity."

Barrett finds himself staring at long odds trying to carve out a spot on a Super Bowl team with a crowded depth chart at both strong side linebacker and rush end, the two spots where the Broncos will work him the most, but he also knows a little history. For 10 consecutive seasons at least one undrafted rookie has made the Broncos' 53-man roster to open the season.

He's hopeful that given he's a married father of two sons, he can make a go of it as a player.

"When I was at Boys Town, church, school, everything was there," Barrett said just after getting a message from his former wrestling coach at the school following Broncos' practice. "Pretty much everything you need. The opportunity turned out great for me, it was a great experience, there are lots of people out there who need more structure, who need more discipline. I was one of those people. I'm excited to give everything I have for this opportunity to see where it can go.

"But football is an opportunity you try to take advantage, my family is my dream, my family is the life we want, what we chose. For football, I know what kind of opportunity it is and I'm here to give everything I have and we'll see what happens. It's just the kind of opportunity you hope you can make for yourself, you know? Not something I would have considered a few years, but things can work out."