PULLMAN – Washington State’s coaches rejoiced when they heard that Robert Barber would be returning to the football field, thanks to a Whitman County Superior Court’s stay of his suspension. Then, they figured out how to fit him back in the lineup for Saturday’s game at Colorado.
The 6-foot-3, 300-pound nose tackle was one of WSU’s key defensive players up until his suspension forced him to miss the last three games. When he was removed from the team, defensive coordinator Alex Grinch made personnel and schematic changes to the defense to compensate.
“We’ll work him in as we see fit and kind of make the decision (how much he plays) after tomorrow’s practice,” Grinch said on Tuesday. “We had to change our defense in the time he’s been gone, so we have to get him an understanding of what we are and we got him some work today.”
Grinch said that, while Barber has been working out and he is not worried much about his fitness level, Barber would likely not play more than two or three consecutive snaps this Saturday at Colorado.
Barber will have extra meetings with the coaches and watch extra film to acquaint himself with the ways the WSU defense has evolved in his absence, and how he can best fit into that scheme.
“He had good work out here, like he never left,” Grinch said. “And certainly the guys were excited to have him back.”
Many of the WSU players attended the public comment period of a WSU board of regents meeting two weeks ago to show their support for Barber. During that meeting wide receiver Gabe Marks spoke on his behalf, as did player parents Jill Osur and Tracy Cracraft, and Josie Salave’a, who is married to defensive line coach Joe Salave’a.
Barber’s teammates showed their elation at his reinstatement on social media throughout the day.
“JUSTICE IS SERVED !!!” tweeted linebacker Parker Henry.
Safety Shalom Luani thanked some of the parents of players, who advocated for Barber’s reinstatement. “Thank you (Jill Osur), (Tracy Cracraft) and everybody out there who made this day a great day for Rob, his family, and for this team,” Luani’s tweet read.
“Yeasir #92 100” added running back Jamal Morrow.
And that was the primary sentiment felt and expressed on Wednesday evening. The coaches noted just how many different parties came together to support Barber and look for different avenues by which he could return to the field.
Local politicians, community groups, activists and the parents of players all worked on Barber’s behalf at various points in the process, challenging WSU’s student conduct policies to the board of regents and eventually in the courts.
“I think it says a lot about the Cougar family and the support this team has, and really what these guys mean to everybody,” Mike Leach said. “Everybody has a lot of pride in the program, but in addition to that, if they see an injustice they react to it, and I think that’s important.”
WSU’s football coaches could not directly involve themselves in the process – director of football operations Antonio Huffman advised Barber during the student conduct board and appeals processes, but the other coaches had games to prepare for.
But they followed the saga closely, and were proud of the way the players and community rallied around their teammate.
“Certainly you’re aware of it,” Grinch said. “I think the thing that was so clear was the support of his teammates and unfortunately, a lot of times it’s negative situations where you can kind of see those things come to light, as opposed to a normal every day practice or meetings.”