MOBILE, Ala. -- Each day, University of Maryland linebacker Eric Barton wakes up in amazement. He is living the opportunity of a lifetime, performing in front of coaches like Tony Dungy, Mike Ditka and Dennis Green every day.
The 6-foot-3, 229-pound Barton will play for the North squad today against the South in the Senior Bowl.
"You read about these guys and see them on TV all the time, but it's great playing in front of them," Barton said. "But you can't become too awe-struck because there is too much intensity here. There is a lot at stake for both the players and the pro teams."
No one has ever questioned Barton's intensity. He led the Terps last season with 159 tackles, 104 unassisted. Some of the South players recognize him from conference play in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Also, a good showing might elevate his position in the NFL draft in April. Barton is projected to be picked in the middle to late rounds.
"That's part of what is going to make this game so much fun," Barton said. "The South has players from Carolina, Virginia and Clemson. We've already been doing some talking. I can't wait to get going because this gets to be a little nerve-racking."
The Senior Bowl is just the middle phase of a nearly yearlong process. The next big hurdle for Barton will be the scouting combine in early February, where seniors undergo sprint and strength tests as well as IQ evaluations. Barton is a little behind a lot of the seniors here because Maryland did not participate in any bowl games.
"Most of these guys played two to three weeks ago. I haven't played since around Thanksgiving," Barton said. "I've had to shake off a little rust, but it's all coming back now."
Here in Mobile, Barton has had an opportunity to reunite and work with his old mentor, former Maryland coach Mark Duffner, who recruited Barton. Duffner is now the linebackers coach with the Cincinnati Bengals.
"It's been great seeing him," Barton said. "We're both from the northern Virginia area, so he has been helping me with my technique, telling me what I'm doing wrong and what I'm doing right. I feel like I'm back in high school again. Not just because Coach Duffner is here, but because all these agents are here trying to sign players. It's like being recruited out of high school again."
Pub Date: 1/23/99