Last Modified: Wednesday, December 26, 2012 6:07 PM
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Ryan Baker's jaw was wired shut. So into the open maw of his first career college start was thrown Lamina Barrow, redshirt freshman, for LSU's 2010 season opener in the Chick-fill-A Kickoff Game against North Carolina.
Instead of shrinking from the challenge of a prime time start at weak side linebacker, Barrow gave himself over to the fearful unknown.
By any standard, it was a promising debut. He had just one tackle, but also recovered a fumble in the Tigers' 30-24 victory.
"It was a growing process for me," Barrow remembered. "I still didn't know all the plays.
"I probably felt more comfortable in that game than I did the next week, but I was all over the place."
Instant success was rather fleeting for Barrow. Despite the broken jaw, Baker returned a week later and held down the starting role for the next two seasons with Barrow relegated to the role of understudy. He made just one more start in 2011 and managed only a combined 35 tackles as a redshirt freshman and sophomore.
Barrow returns to the Georgia Dome, site of his first start in that North Carolina game, for Monday's Chick-fill-A Bowl against Clemson (6:30 p.m. CST, ESPN) again as a starter.
Barrow is eager for the opportunity to go back to the place where for him it all started as a college football player.
"I like the Georgia Dome," he said. "It's kind of like going home. I'm comfortable there."
His comfort comes perhaps from the experience of a man who took the opportunity to start not for a game, but for a season, and by any standard made the most of it.
Barrow is second on the team in total tackles with 93 behind only All-American Kevin Minter, who has piled up 111 stops at middle linebacker. Barrow's five quarterback hurries are the most for any LSU linebacker, and no one had more fumble recoveries (four players with two) or forced fumbles (seven players with one each).
"My mindset is to go to practice every day with the goal of getting better every day," Barrow said.
"My first couple of years, these older guys were ahead of me, but now I have the responsibility of being one of the first-string guys and sticking with Chief (defensive coordinator John Chaves), going to meet with him, watching more film. It's helped me tremendously."
Barrow grew up on the West Bank of New Orleans, just around the corner from former LSU defensive tackle Drake Nevis.
Like Barrow, Nevis went on to play at John Egret and is currently on injured reserve with the Indianapolis Colts.
Barrow gives Nevis as much credit for the player and person he has tried to become as anyone else.
"I had a huge mentor in Drake," he said. "Whenever I was kind of doing in the wrong direction, he set me straight."
It wasn't long before Barrow realized he wanted to be an example as well, not of someone who succumbed to the temptations of the tough neighborhood where he and Nevis grew up, but of someone who got his opportunity and made the most of it.
"A lot of guys from my neighborhood fell victim to things," Barrow said, "where it was the streets or things like that. I tried to be the positive guy in the neighborhood.
"I want to be the guy who can go back and look at the kids under me (as a role model). A lot of them are going to high school now. They text me all the time.
"I try to encourage them. I want them to say, 'If he can make it, I can make it.' Just playing football at the D-I level, in the eyes of a lot of people, I made it."
Now Barrow has made it back, to the place where for him it all began.
LSU will practice Thursday and Friday at the Georgia Dome as well. Clemson will practice Saturday at the Atlanta Falcons practice facility in suburban Flowery Branch, then Sunday at Georgia Tech.