In contact sports, injuries are typical. In football, they're to be expected. In college football, especially at the Division I level, they're closer to inevitable.
For Towson linebacker Bryton Barr, injuries have defined his college football career -- until this season.
After spending a vast majority of his Towson tenure on the sidelines, the fifth-year junior does not feel his past injuries have slowed him down.
"They don't affect my game," Barr said. "My first couple games, I was probably a little bit rusty being out for three years. But getting those first couple snaps out of the way, I started to get back into my groove a little more."
In 2012, Barr started 11 games as a true freshman -- an impressive feat for an 18-year-old. Without a redshirt year to practice and develop in a college weight room before assuming a starting role, the Camp Hill, Pa., native registered 74 tackles, five for a loss, and two sacks during his rookie campaign.
Little did he know what the next few years had in store.
After starting two games as a sophomore in 2013, Barr tore his right pectoral tendon clear off the bone and was shut down for the remainder of the season. To make matters worse, he tore his left pectoral tendon a year later. When it looked like he would finally return to the Tigers in 2015, Barr tore his ACL and put his return on hold yet again.
Barr's freshman accomplishments were quickly overshadowed by his inability to stay on the field the following three years, requiring him to go back and use the redshirt year he originally bypassed.
Now, Barr is classified as a junior, but Towson is petitioning the NCAA to grant him a sixth year of eligibility. However, that decision will not be made until after the completion of the season.
"It was definitely tough to deal with, physically and emotionally," Barr said.
To combat his emotional struggle, Barr found comfort in his religious beliefs during his time on the sidelines.
"I'm a big believer in Christ, and my faith is very strong," Barr said. "I definitely became a stronger person out of it, a better leader, and in a way, a better player -- being off the field and going over schemes and stuff. Being off kind of helped. It was tough, but I learned a lot from it"
This year, Barr has made a strong return. Through the Tigers' first five games, Barr has recorded 15 solo tackles and three tackles for a loss.
Now that he's healthy, Barr, 6-foot, 222 pounds, hopes to stay on the field as long as possible -- in 2016 and beyond. After his promising freshman season, Barr said the dream of playing in the NFL began to seem more like a reality. But like so many of the promises from 2012, multiple season-ending injuries may derail those plans.
Despite the circumstances, Barr remains optimistic and thinks he has the ability to play in the NFL.
"I don't think I lost a step with my speed," Barr said. "My strength with my pecs, I think, are stronger when they got repaired. I do think I can play at the next level, even though I've been through those injuries. I know NFL scouts will look at the number of injuries and see if you're injury-prone, but I think, if I get a chance -- maybe at a training camp -- to show them what I really have, I think I could break camp with a spot on a practice squad or something."
If nothing else, Barr feels his tumultuous career at Towson has taught him an important lesson in mental, emotional and spiritual balance. If football were taken away from him once more, even for good, the 22-year-old business administration major knows he can live without it.
"I know football isn't the only thing that God put me on this earth for," Barr said. "It's something that I love for sure. But if it was taken away from me tomorrow, I would be perfectly content with that because I know God would've taken it away from me for a reason, and He would have something for me that's much better."
Issue 226: October 2016