The human side of Eagles football---

The human side of Eagles football---


The human side of Eagles football---

I do not relish the release of Terrell Watson based upon an alleged learning disability… but that’s the way things go sometimes in the NFL. It’s a business, they tell us…

Then you see heart-warming stories like these evolving before our EYEs…

From Tim McManus at “The glitz and glamour of the NFL draft behind her, Christine Barnett began settling back into her routine this week, returning to the same UPS warehouse that she has toiled in for the past 23 years.

“She had taken some time off to join her son, Derek Barnett, in Philadelphia for the draft. Walked the red carpet with him down the historic museum steps… Sat with him as he was selected 14th overall by the Philadelphia Eagles… Watched from a couple rows back as he met with the local media for the first time, using the opportunity to heap praise on her as he often does.

“My mom, she raised me, so she taught me. And she always told me to stay humble, put your head down and just work … so I think I get that attitude from her,” Derek said.

It was a fulfilling, and dizzying, few days. And her co-workers, who move and sort and lift boxes beside her, and who have promised to become Eagles fans despite their Tennessee roots, have been eager to find out every last detail. Given how busy draft week was, Christine joked that she’s now ready for a real vacation — and said she actually has one coming up in a couple weeks.

Downtime was not always a luxury afforded.

“There was a point in Derek’s young life, when things were really tough, that his mom worked three jobs to keep the family afloat. Without the benefit of child support, she was charged with providing for Derek and his two older siblings but also needed to raise them and be a constant presence in their lives. That would require some creativity. Working the third shift at UPS, she’d start about 10:30 p.m. — shortly after the kids were asleep — and would clock out about 3:30 a.m. That way, she would be able to see the kids off in the morning and be there for dinner and sporting events at night. On the weekends, she’d waitress. At one point, she was working two shifts at two different restaurants back-to-back, starting in the late evening and not finishing until midafternoon the next day.

“That was rough for me,” she acknowledged, “I’m not going to lie. Having three jobs is hard, but I only did that for a short period of time because your body is only going to allow you to do it for so long.”

Christine is down to one job now, as she accepted a full-time position at UPS almost two years ago once all of the kids were out of the house. Derek has requested that she stop working altogether, but Christine resisted and got right back at it, exchanging the elegant gown from draft night for the familiar warehouse attire, still driven to support her now-millionaire son.

Derek Barnett, a 6-foot-3, 259-pound defensive end, proved to be a confounding prospect for a number of NFL evaluators. His production in three seasons at the University of Tennessee was undeniable — he amassed 53 tackles for loss, and his 33 sacks broke the great Reggie White’s Volunteers record — but some scouts had difficulty figuring out exactly how he was so productive. He’s quick out of the gate and has good hands and a better motor, no doubt, but a familiar refrain was that the athleticism doesn’t jump out the same way it often does with other elite pass-rushers.

Listening to Barnett, one reason why the tape might have been hard to make sense of is because it wasn’t telling the whole story.

“I think my get-off is pretty good and I can bend well, but mentally, I think that’s where I separate a little bit, preparing for a game,” he said. “A lot of people don’t see that, but you’ve got to prepare for a game so you can go in and dominate.”

That hasn’t been an issue since Barnett started playing organized football in the fifth grade. Christine’s father played at Ohio State and cautioned against starting Derek too early because of how demanding the sport is on the body, but Derek’s persistence ultimately won out. He quickly rose to the top of the heap. A short time later Christine decided to send him to Brentwood Academy, a private school in the Nashville area, even though the cost of tuition added to her financial burden.

Christine Barnett worked up to three jobs at one point in order to support Derek and his two siblings. Courtesy of Christine Barnett

Then there’s the human element of a discarded Riley Cooper and his trying to resurrect a pro career with a new awareness of humanity—he’s getting a tryout with Tampa Bay:

“I was in Philly for six years. I got cut,” Cooper said. “I was expecting to get picked up somewhere and I didn’t. It was hard to keep training and stay ready without seeing that light at the end of the tunnel. I just kept grinding and grinding. The opportunity is finally here, and you’ve gotta make the best of it.”

Nobody wanted Cooper and his reputation as a “drunken racist” after the Eagles cut him last year.

Cooper is attending Bucs camp this weekend on a tryout basis. He is surrounded by players much younger, who have yet to take the field for an NFL game, let alone post 100 yards in a game.

Has this been a humbling experience for him?

“I don’t think it’s humbling,” said Cooper, 29. “It’s an honor. An NFL team is giving you a chance to make their roster. I don’t think it’s humbling at all.”

Cooper said he has not been given an indication of why the phone calls never came and whether it had anything to do with his 2013 incident at a Kenny Chesney concert. He was caught on video directing a racial slur at a black security guard. The video went viral.

“I’m extremely apologetic about that,” Cooper said. “I told everybody it was completely my fault. I’m so sorry about it. That’s not the type of person I am. People that know me know that. Some of the guys here know that.”

He added, “I don’t know if that’s the reason or not, but I’m going to make the best of this opportunity, keep moving forward and become a better human, a better person and a better football player.”

Cooper said the incident is not something he continues to worry about when meeting new people, including teammates. “It doesn’t come up,” Cooper said. “I just treat everybody with respect and just be me.”

He bought a house in Ocala, Florida, about 1 hour, 45 minutes north of Tampa and two hours from his hometown of Clearwater. He spent his time off fishing and working out. While it helped heal his body, he acknowledges that doubt began to set in.

The Buccaneers like Riley Cooper for his size, his experience and the depth he brings at wide receiver. Jeffrey G. Pittenger/USA TODAY Sports

“It was tough to keep training and staying ready,” Cooper said. “I thought the phone call would have come, but it didn’t. I’m cool with it. It worked out, and I have an opportunity.”

He got word of the Bucs workout on Sunday.

Head coach Dirk Koetter said the staff made the decision prior to the draft to go after Cooper. The Bucs like his size, his experience and the depth he brings at wide receiver. He played for Koetter’s close friend Andy Reid in Philadelphia. He also played with DeSean Jackson, with whom he maintains a relationship. And he’s a big fan of Jameis Winston, whom he played against when he was in Philly and watched when Winston was at Florida State.

“He’s a heck of a player,” Cooper said. “He’s super-talented and smart. He makes good reads, and it would be fun — it would be an honor to play with Jameis. He’s a heck of a quarterback, and I think he’ll be in Tampa a long time.”

I root for redemption…it doesn’t always work out…but I root for it.

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