Nothing was ever given to former USF linebacker Sam Barrington. In high school, he would leave football practice and head straight to work.
On Sundays, he went to his job at a car detailer for seven hours and then travel to another job directly after.
“I would work six days a week,” Barrington said. “The only day I wouldn’t work was Friday because we had a game that night. I knew I wanted my own money and I didn’t want to bother my mom by asking her for stuff because I knew she already had a lot to take care of.”
Now, the 24-year-old has worked his way up the Green Bay Packers’ depth chart, getting his first career start in Week 7 against the Carolina Panthers.
In Week 9 against NFC North rival the Chicago Bears, the 6-foot-1, 240-pound linebacker broke through the Bears’ offensive line and threw opposing quarterback Jay Cutler to the ground for his first career sack – a feat he had worked toward since he was 7 years old, playing in the field behind the Boys and Girls Club.
Growing up in Jacksonville, Barrington would spend most of his time after school and in the summer in that field playing pick-up games. With any nearby kids, Barrington began to refine his craft.
“It was big kids and little kids, didn’t matter who was playing,” Barrington said. “I can’t tell you how many T-shirts were ruined just from being out there running around.”
One day after school, the club had a sign advertising football tryouts at Cooker Park in north Jacksonville. Barrington said he and his brother Kwame ran home to ask their mom if they could join.
“I can honestly say my brother was a better ballplayer than I was growing up,” Barrington said. “Maybe if he was three or four inches taller, who knows where he’d be right now because he was just that talented.”
Kwame would lead the way to his older brother’s success.
In his senior year at Terry Parker High School, Barrington played on both sides of the ball and led the team in rushing with 1,200 yards with his brother right in front of him at fullback.
“(Playing with my brother) was great,” Barrington said. “That’s what helped me become the player I am today. I was always the finesse guy, but he was tough. Anybody who knows Kwame knew he was tough, and I knew if I wanted to be good I had to be that tough and I got that from my younger brother.”
Barrington said his two jobs, school and football were tough to juggle at times, but he never let it affect his role in the family.
As a single mom of six children, Paris Johnson, Barrington’s mother, had to work two or three jobs at times to support the family. When she arrived home from work, Johnson said she was relieved but not surprised to find her older son had ironed and laid out the entire household’s clothes and left the house spotless.
She said she relied on Barrington, making his departure to USF that much harder.
“I cried from Tampa to Jacksonville worrying if he’d be OK and if anyone was going to hurt him,” Johnson said. “I just wasn’t ready to release him.”
Barrington received offers from Miami and Illinois, but decided to come to USF after falling in love with the sunny skies and calm waters of Tampa while driving over the Howard Franklin Bridge on his first official visit.
Though Miami has a similar feel, Barrington knew USF — a young program — was closer to what he was looking for.
“I wanted to go somewhere where I’d be comfortable — somewhere that reminded me of home,” Barrington said. “I didn’t want to go too far, but didn’t want to stay too close. I wanted to be a part of something up and coming and didn’t want to be just another name etched in stone.”
Barrington received his first start in the season finale of his freshman year against UConn. He said the temperature neared the single digits, a good taste of what he would later experience with the Packers.
Barrington started every game from that point on, accounting for 258 total tackles as well as six sacks. Although he has since graduated, the lineman still makes an impact on players coming up through USF.
“He gives me a lot of insight into what I need to be doing and taking care of my body and the NFL process that’s coming up for me soon,” senior defensive tackle Todd Chandler said. “He was a good teammate when he was here and is good now, even though he’s gone.”
Chandler said Barrington came back to USF during training camp to talk with the team and give them insight into what they needed to do to get better as a team.
Barrington values relationships over anything in his life. He said he still maintains good relationships with everyone in his life, including his Pop Warner coaches, and the managers from his first two jobs.
“You have to really take value in relationships,” Barrington said. “You never know how much of a role someone will play in your life later on. Five or six years from now, if I’m fortunate enough to still be in the league, I want to be one of those guys to give advice to the young guys. That’s one thing I always made sure to do while I was at USF and want to do now.”
On April 28, 2012, every bit of his work and struggle until that point was made worthwhile when he realized his lifelong dream.
Barrington was selected with the 26th pick of the seventh round by the Green Bay Packers.
“We were about to leave when I got a call from my nephew,” Johnson said. “He said Sam had made it and all I can remember is screaming and yelling, so everyone knew my boy had made it to the NFL.”
As it is for most players, Barrington said being selected in the seventh round was the best feeling he had ever felt. He just wanted to make his family proud of him.
The possibility of a 24-game schedule, including preseason and postseason, as well as constant fear for your job can be hard to handle, but for Barrington, a lifetime of hard work left him prepared for the daunting task.
“There were some growing pains, but I feel that if you’re a ballplayer, then you’re a ballplayer,” Barrington said. “If you took the time to listen to what your coaches in college were telling you and you used them to grow every year, then you should be successful and that’s what I did.”
Although he spent most of his first two seasons as a backup, Barrington has enjoyed every minute as an NFL player, knowing every game could be his last.
Before every game, while the national anthem rings in his ears, Barrington said he just closes his eyes and soaks in the moment, remembering what it took to get to that point.
“Playing here at Lambeau, you really have to be grateful for every game,” he said. “You’re promised at least four years in college, in the NFL you have to take advantage of every game that you get because this league is so competitive and you can be gone very quickly.”
Barrington said the drive for success was embedded in him by his mom before football was even in the picture. He credits his mom for getting him to where he is.
“The strongest person I know is my mom. She’s been through so much,” Barrington said. “I never gave her any problems growing up, but I just want to make her proud because she brags about me and I want to keep her bragging.”