This season, Slippery Rock quarterback Nigel Barksdale set the Division II football world on fire as he broke school records and led the football team to the NCAA Playoffs for the first time since 1999.
One year after tearing his ACL, Barksdale set new Slippery Rock University records for single-season passing yards (3,674), passing touchdowns (30), pass attempts (405) and pass completions (238) as well as total offense (4,096).
He was also named a Super Regional finalist for the Harlon Hill Award, the Division II version of the Heisman Trophy.
Barksdale, a 5’10’’ 170 pound athlete, has an average build and a humble attitude about his abilities.
“Tearing my ACL hurt, but I knew my drive would allow me to come back even stronger,” Barksdale said. “I worked tirelessly with the athletic trainers every single day and they pushed me and to them I am forever grateful.”
Barksdale, a California native and public health major student at Slippery Rock University, has been playing football for as long as he can remember. He said that football is a way of life and no matter where life takes him, he hopes that a football is in his hands because he feels that he was born to play.
“When I was growing up in San Diego, all I had was family and football,” Barksdale said. “I knew football was my calling.”
Barksdale’s collegiate journey began at Mount San Jacinto Community College, a small school in Riverside County in California. He said he loved the weather and atmosphere in California, but he knew that he’d have to leave home once he got an offer to play at a Division I or Division II school.
“I knew I’d get an opportunity somewhere to play college football, but I didn’t know I’d have to take my talents across the country to Pennsylvania,” Barksdale said. “I was excited and happy that Coach Longo found me and saw something he liked in me. I knew that I couldn’t let him down.”
Phil Longo, Slippery Rock’s wide receiver’s coach, said that Division I coaches may have overlooked Barksdale because of his size.
When Barksdale came to SRU in 2012, he wasn’t named the starting quarterback. After Jared Buck suffered an injury during the season, Barksdale was given the opportunity to step in.
Barksdale was successful right out of the gate and went on to lead the team to five straight wins. He scrambled a lot but made the type of play calls that couldn’t be taught, Longo added.
“When we brought Barksdale in two years ago, we knew that our offense was challenging and that it would take time to learn,” Longo said. “To watch him soak up the information and not struggle with it was remarkable. Nigel puts the necessary time and effort into the system and it shows in his play.”
Barksdale’s first season with the Rock was ended by one of the toughest injuries an athlete can suffer; an ACL tear.
“He was in a nice groove and was beginning to get comfortable out on the field,” Longo said. “When he went down with a knee injury, it was sad to see.”
X-rays and tests confirmed that his junior season was over and he would need to get surgery to repair the torn ACL.
While unable to practice, Barksdale spent his time studying the playbooks and understanding the offense. When he finally was cleared to practice, he knew he had a lot of work to put in to earn the starting position back.
“I worked so hard to come back because I hated not being able to help my team on the field,” Barksdale said. “I felt like I let my team down when I went out with the injury last season. I feel that I made up for it this year and hope my teammates agree.”
SRU’s coaching staff was pleased with the performance Barksdale had this year.
“It’s no surprise to the staff at Slippery Rock that Nigel had the season he did,” Longo said. “He studied the system and knows it inside and out.”
Sophomore wide receiver Nick Davis looks up to Barksdale and was impressed with the quarterback’s dedication to the sport.
“Nigel’s got the juice,” Davis said. “He came back from the obstacle of tearing an ACL. He was, hands down, the best quarterback in the PSAC this year. He’s a great leader and definitely has my respect. He makes everyone feel welcome and important on the team.”
One of Barksdale’s favorite targets this season, redshirt junior wide receiver Ken Amos, said that the quarterback’s comeback says a lot about his character.
“Life is full of obstacles and we all have them,” Amos said. “What matters is how you overcome them. It was tough to see Nigel go out with a torn ACL but to see him come back in his senior year stronger and better is simply remarkable.”
Having the respect of his coaches and teammates means a lot to Barksdale.
“To me, respect is key in life,” Barksdale said. “It feels great to have the respect and admiration of the guys on my team.”
Even though the season is over, Barksdale is optimistic about football being a part of his future.
“Ever since I was a kid growing up in California, football has been my life,” Barksdale said. “I hope to be able to play it for the rest of my life.”