Lakewood's Todd Barr a top prospect

LAKEWOOD, Calif. -- As Todd Barr approaches the line of scrimmage, his routine begins, it's like clockwork. Opponents know exactly what's coming, but rarely can do anything about stopping the highly touted defensive tackle for the Lakewood High School football team.

The 6-foot-3, 265-pound senior adjusts his massive shoulder pads first, buckles his chin strap and gnaws on his mouthpiece before he digs his oversized cleats firmly into the turf and sets up in a three-point stance.

After shooting a rather menacing glance toward the offensive lineman directly in front of him and uttering some choice words -- a little trash talk -- Barr is prepared both physically and mentally for the ball to be snapped and the battle in the trenches to ensue.

He is immediately met by the center and guard, each determined to keep him out of the backfield. Clashing helmets with the tackle pulling off the end to help out doesn't deter him in the least. An undersized fullback serves as the last line of defense but offers little resistance as Barr achieves his goal: Sacking the quarterback for a loss.

It's all in a day's work for one of the nation's premier prep players at his position. And make no mistake, Barr is willing to do just about whatever it takes to maintain the gridiron reputation he has worked so diligently to attain.

"The double and triple teams surprised me at first, yeah it was frustrating, but I've learned how to deal with it," Barr said. "I have a target on my back, I know, I did it to myself. It's how things work. Nothing is going to stop me from getting the job done."

Try as it might, host Lawndale Leuzinger couldn't find the right combination of players to answer Barr's looming presence in last week's 44-0 nonleague loss to Lakewood, No. 4 in ESPNLosAngeles.com's Top 25 Prep Football rankings. He was seemingly unstoppable and finished with seven tackles, three of which were for losses. Keep in mind, with the outcome of the game no longer in doubt, Barr didn't play much in the second half.

Compton is up next for the visiting Lancers (4-0) on Friday and the Tarbabes figure to have their hands full with Barr, who ESPNU ranks as the country's No.3 interior lineman and No. 28 overall. It's also worth noting he hasn't given a college commitment as of yet, making him one of the more sought-after recruits around.

"Todd isn't a rah-rah guy, he's more blue collar, yet he goes out there and dominates on a weekly basis, regardless of who is in his path," Lakewood coach Thadd MacNeal said. "He's a matchup nightmare, a problem no one likes to deal with. I wouldn't want to either. He's a factor on every play. What's not to like about that?

"He's big, strong as can be, and athletic, fast as can be. At this level, he's tough, way too tough. Todd possesses all of the intangibles, that's what truly separates him from most of his peers. I talk to plenty of people about him, coaches from all over the country, and they think highly of him. He grades out well. Todd is a talented kid."

There was a time, however, when Barr wasn't a well-known prospect. Far from it, in fact. During his freshman and sophomore seasons, he played sparingly for Lakewood, which had a roster full of talent from top to bottom. He was buried on the depth chart behind standouts Justin Utupo and Talia Crichton, both of whom are currently playing in college at Notre Dame and Washington, respectively.

Instead of letting frustration prevail, the lack of reps served as motivation for Barr.

The Lancers' defensive line coach Bernard Riley, who played at USC from 1999 to 2003 before a brief stint in the NFL, took Barr underneath his wing.
Together, they got to the task at hand. Hitting the weight room with a vengeance built some much-needed core strength. Short-distance sprints were designed to improve explosiveness. Tirelessly working on technique turned out to be the final piece of the puzzle.

Accordingly, Barr had a breakout effort as a junior, he was as disruptive as they come at the line of scrimmage. In 13 games, he had 87 tackles, 32 for a loss, and 12 sacks. He also finished with five forced fumbles, two recoveries and three pass deflections.

"What most people don't know about Todd is how he approaches each game, each series, each snap," Riley said. "He understands teams want to stop him, at all costs, I've seen them send two, three, sometimes four guys in his direction. It doesn't bother him. He's intense, every down is important to him. Just before the play, he visualizes things, then gets down and gets after it. Something inside of him is unleashed.

"Todd is starting to realize that football is a job, it's a craft. That's not an easy idea to pick up on, it's a man thing, and he's beginning to grasp a hold of it. You can see that in his play. It's not a question about when anymore, Todd is going places in life, he can make a living playing this game. He has the mentality, he wants to be a monster on the field, the best in the business, he won't settle. Todd's time is now."

Given his new-found experience, Barr has been able to pick up right where he left off last year. Through four games this season, he has made things difficult for opposing offensive coordinators to the tune of 19 tackles, four sacks and a forced fumble.

NCAA Division I colleges have made sure to keep a watchful eye on Lakewood's Friday night boxscores in an effort to keep tabs on Barr. He has scholarship offers from several of the nation's powerhouse programs, including Florida. In addition, most every Pac-10 Conference school is interested.

A 3.75 grade point average in the classroom is an indication Barr believes it's equally important to takes care of business off the field, as well as on.

"If you would've told me Todd was going to be one of the top defensive lineman in the country when he first arrived here on campus, I wouldn't have believed you," MacNeal said. "Give him credit though, he has worked extremely hard. He's done what he's had to in a very short period of time. It's been fun watching him develop.

"He has this presence about him now. He demands attention. It doesn't matter where he is on the line of scrimmage, inside, outside, on the nose, he still causes havoc no matter how many guys are on him. Everyone gives him their best shot, it's something that comes with the territory. Bottom line: Todd knows how to handle things."

Apparently so, Barr has proved as much time and again.

Biding his time, essentially waiting his turn in line to make an impact at Lakewood was the initial obstacle to overcome. And once the opportunity to become a full-time starter on the defensive line finally presented itself, it was time to begin imposing his will on opponents -- centers, guards, tackles and fullbacks alike.

With pads, helmet and the rest of his Lancers equipment in place nowadays, Barr appears fully prepared for the future. Taking on life, in a head-on manner of course, doesn't figure to be a problem considering all of his recent success.

"Time flies when you're having fun," Barr said. "It seems like yesterday, I was going to my first varsity game. Today, teams are focused on stopping me. That's why I approach each game the same way, go hard on every play like it's my last. I'm sticking to my game plan because if I do, everything else will be a piece of cake and fall into place. If it's worked in the past, it's going to work in the next couple of years.

"I'm in a good position right now. Recruiting is going well, I'm in contact with college coaches all the time. But really, I haven't accomplished anything yet. For me, staying humble and working hard is key. I'm hungry. It's all about fine tuning my skills and I plan on doing that against anyone and everyone."

Sean Ceglinsky is a contributor to the High Schools page for ESPNLosAngeles.com.