It just wasn’t working out anymore.
After playing strictly offense since he was 16, UCLA’s Anthony Barr had watched his once promising career as an running back slowly deteriorate. Play making, scoring touchdowns and helping his team win once defined Barr on the field, but none of that was evident anymore.
In two years of college? 15 carries for 54 yards and one score.
"I just wasn’t happy," Barr said. "I wasn’t touching the ball and I felt I needed to make a change."
So, he made a phone call to Jim Mora Jr., UCLA’s defensive coordinator.
Flash forward two years and Barr is now viewed as one of the most feared pass rushers entering the 2014 NFL Draft.
"And I’m just getting started," Barr said.
It had been since Barr’s freshman year of high school that he last took the field on the defensive side of the ball. He played a little nose tackle, SAM and WILL in Loyola High School’s 4-3 defense, but nothing ever stuck. Barr loved scoring touchdowns, something he did on a pretty regular basis.
As a junior, Barr earned All-State honors when he rushed for 1,890 yards and 20 touchdowns. He was unable to play his senior season after breaking his ankle, missing the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, but was still ranked as the No. 8 prospect out of California by Rivals.com
Barr was highly recruited with many Division I teams that saw the 6-5 teenager as the perfect wide receiver, but Barr wanted to remain behind the quarterback. So, he chose UCLA.
Two years in it wasn’t working out, which enticed the call to Mora.
"I wanted to get him my story and asked if I could change my position because I wasn’t playing on offense," Barr said. "We saw eye-to-eye and worked something out and ran with this position."
"This position" was outside linebacker. Mora saw a specimen with an abundance of athletic ability, a high motor and willingness to do anything to make the team better. Not to mention, Barr had incredible quickness that was sure to strike fear in any quarterback that saw him coming off the edge.
"The toughest part was actually moving backwards," Barr said. "Everything on offense is going forward. Having to drop back and look at zone and man was new."
Rushing the passer? Well, that came naturally.
In his first season at his new position, Barr recorded 83 tackles, 21.5 for a loss, with 13.5 sacks. The sack total was the second most in the nation.
"It was gratifying knowing the work I had put in was being fulfilled," Barr said. "We were also winning, people were noticing us. We had some tough years early on and finally things got going a little bit."
Last year, Barr finished with 65 tackles, 20 for a loss, with 10 sacks and five forced fumbles. The one-time running back won the Lott Impact Award and was a finalist for the Lombardi, Bednarik and Butkus awards.
The accomplishments are impressive, but ask Barr and he’ll tell you it’s only the beginning.
"There’s so much more I’m capable of," Barr said. "To get some more coaching and be given the opportunity I know I can do some awesome things."
Throughout the pre-draft process, teams have expressed concern to Barr for his lack of experience. While there is no doubt Barr has the natural ability to be one of the top pass rushers in the NFL, he’s very raw having played two years at a position many play their entire career.
"Some teams have their concerns for obvious reasons, but I’ve tried to put those to rest," Barr said. "The tape speaks for itself. They watch me play and know I like to play football, compete and try to win.
"All I’m trying to do is get on a team, earn a job and help them win some games."