INDIANAPOLIS — Peyton Barber made lists of “pros” and “cons.” He consulted his closest advisors. He thought about the semester he still needed to complete for his degree.
In the end, those things paled in comparison to his primary reason for heading to the NFL.
Wednesday afternoon at the league’s annual scouting combine, the running back from Alpharetta, Ga., revealed something he’d been keeping from nearly everyone: His mother, Lori, is homeless.
Barber shortened his road to the professional ranks so he can earn the money needed to take care of her.
“It doesn’t make (the draft process) difficult,” he said. “It kind of makes it easier. I have something to strive for. Push for.”
Barber’s parents divorced when he was in first grade, and he found himself without a consistent roof over his head for the next seven years.
His parents, Ken and Lori, were always supportive, but by the time he enrolled at Milton High, a combination of ADHD, dyslexia and homelessness kept him distant from peers.
“It’s very hard to overcome,” Milton football coach Howie DeCristofaro told SEC Country of Barber’s learning challenges. “Especially when you’re trying to hide it from people because you feel like there’s some kind of stigma attached to it.”
Barber’s savior was Gary Sylvester, a retired squad officer and ordained minister who immediately hit it off with the religious freshman.
The pair were constantly together, working on and off the gridiron to put Barber in position to attend college.
“He dealt with a lot of adversity off the field with academics,” Sylvester told SEC Country. “And his driving force was football.”
The shy freshman became a confident senior, and — citing a need to be closer to his family — decided to play football at Auburn over Ole Miss.
As a redshirt sophomore this past season, Barber rushed for 1,016 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Now, he’s trying to show NFL teams why they should take a chance on him. In Indianapolis, scouts and coaches are already wondering whether his learning disabilities will affect his football IQ.
“I told ’em that I’m capable of picking up an offense,” Barber said. “It’s not the fact that I’m illiterate or anything. I’ve been on the honor roll three times since I’ve been in college. So picking up an offense, I’ll definitely be able to do.”
His supporters know whichever team that takes a chance on him won’t be disappointed.
“There’s so many people with some bad baggage in their background,” Sylvester said. “Unfortunately, that happens in athletics. But he’s a great young man, and I think that’s what people want to see.”
When Barber gets that first paycheck, he promises to “set my mom up and help her out,” while making sure to invest wisely and make his savings account a priority.
He sees his pending career as a chance to be a role model.
“There’s kids that look up to me: ‘If he can make it through this, then I can make it through it,'” Barber said.
Throughout his press conference on Wednesday, he remained calm and focused.
It was an impressive display of maturity, especially while discussing topics that could unravel anyone.
Where did he get his demeanor?
“My mom,” he said with a smile. “She’s the same way that I am.”