As debate rages over the merits of providing college football players a full “cost of attendance” scholarship to cover all of life’s needs, consider the plight of one Sally Bars.
She’s now the mother of three FBS college football players, as her youngest son Alex has committed to play offensive line for Notre Dame. He’ll join brother Blake, currently an offensive lineman at Michigan, and eldest brother Brad, a defensive end for Penn State.
“We’ve always joked that when each one has gone off to school, we get a raise, but the times they’re all at home, it’s just crazy. I go to the store twice a day. You would think three gallons of milk would get you through a weekend,” she says with a laugh.
“And they’re always hungry. We’ll finish a huge dinner and then two hours later I’ll see one of them in the kitchen saying ‘I’m starving, mom!’”
You know those “House Divided” vanity license plates? The Bars family would need one the size of a windshield. When Alex, the 6'6", 287-pound offensive lineman, committed to the Irish in May, it meant that Sally and Joe Bars would be traveling between multiple college campuses for the near future.
“It’s definitely going to be a competitive house for the next couple years,” Alex admits.
Bars committed to the Irish over a slew of other offers, including Florida, LSU, Tennessee and Ohio State, as well as both of his brothers’ schools. Unlike other famous football siblings, the Bars family has gone in three distinct directions, and while it’s havoc on the parents, they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“For us as parents it would’ve been great, certainly. They could’ve all gone to the same school, maybe one hour away, but I don’t know if they would’ve been happy with that.
We’ve always given our kids an opportunity to think for themselves,” says Joe Bars, who played at Notre Dame for Gerry Faust in the 1980s.
Indeed, Alex credits his father for helping him learn about Notre Dame, but says his decision to commit to the Irish had more to do with the fact that he loved the coaching staff and wanted to attend a top academic university.
“He is really happy, though,” Alex admits.
The youngest football Bars will get to skip the nonstop pressure that normally dogs an undecided top high school prospect in his senior season, but he’s adamant that he didn’t rush into his decision to go Irish just to alleviate pressure.
“For me, the decision was easy. I was going to take as much time as I needed, but I felt like it was the right time when I announced it.”
Having already guided his two oldest sons through the college football recruitment process, Joe admits that by the time Alex began to be courted by schools across the country, there was a comfort and familiarity in navigating a process that most parents don’t enjoy.
“We certainly knew how the process worked, and there’s a different way they go after highly ranked kids. We knew coaches at all different levels and where they had moved to over the years, so you could say that it helped,” Joe says.
“The difference with Notre Dame (now and the 1980s) isn’t that great in terms of recruiting. They’ve always recruited nationally. I would say that campus is about double its size since I was there, that’s about the biggest difference I noticed.”
In addition to an overflow of football talent, the Bars family is somewhat notable for sending three players north despite residing in the heart of SEC country. The family moved to Nashville in 2003, and Sally says her boys consider themselves country — “They wear camo, listen to country music, go to the CMA Festival every year, they love it,” she says — but there’s no shortage of local heat for eschewing the mighty Southeastern Conference.
“We’ve always heard it and still do. Vanderbilt’s maybe two miles from us, and Tennessee has a huge following here. Butch Jones has done a great job recruiting, so yes, you can say it’s definitely felt,” Joe admits.
“Yeah, we’ve been getting grief ever since my first brother went to Penn State. It’s SEC country here, no doubt,” Alex says. According to 247Sports, the youngest Bars was offered by 11 SEC teams.
With every son’s loyalties now locked, it’s just a matter of getting to the games.
Keeping three football players fed is hard enough, but this fall, Sally and Joe will manage two Big Ten football schedules, Alex’s senior season at Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville and sister Lauren’s volleyball and basketball schedules.
“You’re making me nervous just talking about it,” Sally says. “There are some games I’m starting to panic over, especially getting to Penn State on a Saturday if there’s a Friday night game.”
The strategy will be to divide and conquer, with at least one parent attempting to make Penn State or Michigan games in addition to one or both watching Alex’s and Lauren’s high school games.
One game they’re very likely to make — Oct. 12, when Blake’s Wolverines travel to Happy Valley to face Brad’s Nittany Lions. That means that Blake, a 6'5", 284-pound guard who redshirted last season, could go head-to-head with Brad, a 6'3", 242-pound defensive end famous among Penn State fans for his blocked punt against Illinois in 2012.
“I’ll be very neutral,” Sally promises. “I’ll cheer for Penn State on defense and Michigan on offense, even though they’re on the field at the same time.”
“We’d prefer that they not go against each other, but if it happens they’re both going to compete hard and probably have a chuckle after the play. But they’ll definitely compete hard if it happens,” Joe says.
“They went up against each other in high school and would come home and talk about it, so I think it would be neat,” Sally says. “Honestly, they still go up against each other in the backyard, so it’s definitely not the first time.”
It won’t be the only time there’s a truly divided house. If Alex plays as a true freshman for the Irish, he could go up against brother Blake and the Wolverines when the two schools play for the final time (for now) in 2014.
For Alex, there’s a benefit to being the “baby” player in such a family, and that’s an abundance of built-in coaching.
“They’ve been great for me. They’ll come back from school and Brad will show me moves at defensive end and Blake will teach me offensive line moves he’s learned at the college level.
“It’s not so much technique, but it’s helpful to know what to expect for each game and how to handle yourself at that level, too.”
There’s certainly a personality difference between the defensive and offensive mindsets in his children, but former linebacker Joe isn’t quick to divulge exactly what makes his sons suited for one side of the ball or the other.
“Absolutely, there’s a mindset for each position, but I’m not going to talk about it,” he says laughing. “They’re all my kids, and I don’t want to single any one of them out. Certainly I could talk to Brad about certain things, and then it was an adjustment for Blake and Alex, but we’ve had great coaches here who have helped along the way.”
Alex is slightly more succinct in the difference: “Defense plays into the type of person that’s a little more crazy. You can’t go wild on the offensive line or you’ll miss your blocks.”
Both Joe and Sally emphasize letting their children find their own way. They encouraged the kids to play multiple sports throughout the year while growing up, both for the physical training and to break up mental fatigue.
“My advice for parents … shop online,” deadpans Sally. “But seriously, it’s to encourage your kids to become well-rounded. Whatever they’re interested in, encourage them to pursue their dreams and to find a passion.”
All four Bars kids play musical instruments, so if the thought of a menacing group of brothers playing on the line is too intimidating, Sally would have you know that both Blake and Brad played tenor saxophone in the band (Alex lucked out and got to play guitar, which was “cooler”).
Alex was away at a summer basketball camp while speaking for this story — despite the fact that, according to Joe, he’s up to around 300 pounds.
“No point guard for me,” Alex laughs. “A lot of center and forward.”
As any proud father would, Joe makes sure to tell the story about how Alex’s basketball coach stopped practice because the coaches and players were curious if Notre Dame’s next stud lineman could dunk the ball.
“And he did. One-handed, too,” Joe says.
by Steven Godfrey
Fathers, Sons and Signing Day
Alex Bars isn't the only legacy player heading into his senior year of high school. Here are a several other gridiron stars following in their famous NFL fathers' footsteps.
Randall Cunningham Jr.
Quarterback, Las Vegas, Nev. (Bishop Gorman)
Schools Interested: Baylor, LSU, UNLV, Mississippi State
Dear Old Dad: Cunningham’s father, Randall Sr., was a Pro Bowl QB with the Eagles and Vikings in the 1990s and helped to define the concept of the “dual-threat” run/pass quarterback at the professional level.
All In The Family: Jr. and Sr. share more than a name — the son has the same escapability and speed behind center as his old man. He could be a perfect fit for Art Briles’ high-octane Baylor offense.
Running back, Highlands Ranch, Colo. (Valor Christian)
Schools Interested: Committed to Stanford
Dear Old Dad: Christian’s father Ed McCaffrey is a Denver Broncos legend, serving as one of John Elway’s favorite targets through two Super Bowl wins in a 13-year career. Before that, McCaffery was an All-American at Stanford in 1991.
All In The Family: Already approaching 200 pounds as an all-purpose running back, McCaffrey packs a bit more punch than his lanky wideout dad. The 2012 All-Colorado Offensive Player of the Year looks to follow in the footsteps of Cardinal backs like Toby Gerhart in David Shaw’s power offense.
Orlando Brown Jr.
Offensive lineman, Duluth, Ga. (Peachtree Ridge)
Schools Interested: Committed to Tennessee
Dear Old Dad: At 6'7", 360 lbs., Orlando Sr. was a monstrous tackle for the Browns and Ravens for 11 seasons. Brown was nicknamed “Zeus” for his imposing physicality. A bizarre incident in which he was struck in the eye with a ref’s flag interrupted his career in 1999. But Zeus returned to the league before retiring in 2005. Tragically, he passed away in 2011.
All In The Family: Brown is more than a chip off the old block at 6'7", 340 lbs., and after a fierce nationwide recruitment, he’s giving the Volunteers an elite offensive lineman who should be able to contribute early in his career.
Cornerback, Birmingham, Ala. (Hoover)
Schools Interested: Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina
Dear Old Dad: Bobby Humphrey rushed for a then-school-record 3,420 yards at Alabama before being a first-round pick of the Broncos in 1989. Humphrey finished behind Barry Sanders in Offensive Rookie of the Year voting in 1989, was voted to the Pro Bowl in 1990 and retired after five seasons in 1993.
All In The Family: Marlon Humphrey is one of the top prospects in the nation, regardless of position. The 5-star stud headlines a nationally ranked Hoover club, as a lockdown cornerback who hits hard and runs like a track star — which he is. As expected, Alabama is the early favorite to land Humphrey, but South Carolina is making a big push.
Troy Vincent Jr.
Cornerback, Rockville, Md. (Gilman)
Schools Interested: Committed to Penn State
Dear Old Dad: Vincent Sr. was a standout at Wisconsin before his 15-year NFL run, earning five Pro Bowl trips playing for four different teams. He was also president of the NFLPA and named Walter Payton Man of the Year.
All In The Family: At the same position, the younger Vincent is three inches shorter than his dad, but just as physical a tackler and ball-hawking cover corner. He also sees a significant amount of time at running back for his high school team thanks to his natural speed.