Gary Patterson wasn’t particularly happy with the run game following Saturday night’s week one win. The Horned Frog’s coach wants his team to be more physical at the point of attack and more successful in the red zone, where he reiterated how important it was to be able to score on the ground as windows get tighter and defenses have an advantage. “That was the place I thought we have to get better at it,” Patterson said. He went on to explain further. “They weren’t that great against [the defense] in fall ball. We’re going to have to get a lot better down there. The best way to get better there is we have to run the football.”
Running the football will primarily be a chore for seniors Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua, but a pair of true freshmen are making a push as well. As fall camp went on, Patterson said the plan was to play Darwin Barlow and Daimarqua Foster each four games to get his team eight total without either having to burn their redshirt season while sitting behind the two seniors. Barlow seemed likely to get the first go, though when he entered late in the fourth quarter for garbage time against UAPB, there was a little bit of groaning that one of his four would be in a game that was already well decided.
That is, until he touched the football.
Patterson said of Barlow just a few practices into camp, “to be honest with you, we are really excited about Barlow. He made a cut yesterday that was unbelievable. Up to this point — he’s still a lost puppy when it comes to where he needs to be and where he needs to go and all those kind of things — but when you put the ball in his hands, he’s pretty good at what he does.” TCU fans saw that for themselves Saturday night, as Barlow ran the ball eight straight times, picking up 45 yards, and scampering for a hard fought touchdown - the first of his career.
The moment was extra special for the 5’11”, 195 four star prospect out of Newton, TX for a couple of reasons. One, his family was sitting on the sideline near the end zone where he scored, and they could not get enough every time he touched the ball. I happened to be standing right in front of them, and let me tell you, they were PROUD and they were loud and it was awesome. One of those moments where it really hits you that the kids we are cheering (or sometimes not cheering) are truly kids - and they have parents and brothers and sisters and cousins and hundreds of people who are following every step they take.
But, there was a second reason as well, one just as beautiful but maybe even more poignant.
W.T. Johnston is a Texas legend. Hired to be the head football coach at Newton High School in 2010, he made the state championship game three times, winning back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018. He did it all while battle lung disease diagnosed in 2012 and dealing with a very rare case of Graft-versus-host disease since 2015. After winning the state title in 2018, he gave an impassioned testimony that went viral.
It would be his final game as a football coach.
After retiring earlier in the spring, Johnston passed away in May. It was a loss felt across the state; Gary Patterson said he was “one of those coaches everybody knew” and reverberated in the TCU Football community, where Barlow and fellow Eagle Josh Foster were continuing their football careers. Both players made their collegiate debuts Saturday night in the Frogs’ season opening win, with Darwin getting to make his mark on the game in a significant way. We learned after the game that the touchdown was scored in memory of his high school coach, when Patterson told reporters in the postgame press conference that Barlow’s score was “a really cool moment” and “a really cool thing”, calling him a “really good player” as well.
That touchdown led to a really cool moment on the field as well, as wide receiver Jalen Reagor and running back Sewo Olonilua greeted the freshman at the sideline and celebrated, creating one of my favorite moments and photos of the last two seasons:
Darwin Barlow is a really good player. And he’s probably going to score a lot more touchdowns. And while there might be more important games or bigger moments, I have a feeling none will match that one. There’s nothing quite like doing something for somebody else, and Barlow gave a fitting tribute to a man that’s meant a lot to him through the years.
And oh, about that redshirt? After the game, Patterson was having second thoughts. Already. About both of his freshmen running backs.
“They’ll both get their time. They’ll both get their time going forward. And to be honest with you - the way the running back position is - I’m not sure they’ll be able to redshirt. Just for the simple reason that it’s a long season.”
That long season started off well for a special player. And the best may still be to come.