AUBURN, Ala. — Memorizing plays has never come easy for Peyton Barber.
Until a few months ago, though, he wasn’t sure exactly why. Yes, he had been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactive disorder in high school. But sitting in class a few months ago, he knew something else was amiss.
“I was reading and the words would come off the page and then I would start reading backward,” said Barber, a redshirt freshman running back. “I was wondering what was going on and I had always had that problem, so I went and talked to one of the counselors about it and they said, 'We'll get you tested.'”
When the results came back, Barber had his answer: The Alpharetta (Ga.) High School product had dyslexia. The discovery didn’t shock him, as he said his father also battles dyslexia. If nothing else, Barber was just relieved to finally know what he had been dealing with.
In the months since, Barber said things in the classroom haven’t changed all that much, with the accommodations made for his ADHD already in place.
Auburn’s coaching knew about his ADHD when they were recruiting him, Barber said, and they couldn’t have cared less.
“Coach (Gus) Malzahn and (offensive coordinator) Coach (Rhett) Lashlee said we can work past that,” Barber said. “That was one of my biggest things coming into it.”
Still, it was a bit too much to take in when he arrived last fall. Barber admitted that due to his dyslexia and ADHD, it takes him “a little bit longer to learn plays than the average person.”
That’s why he believes redshirting during the 2013 season was so beneficial.
“I like to actually go on the scout team and give (myself) a chance to get better,” he said. “I was really standing around during the first part of the season just watching Tre (Mason) do everything — and Cam (Artis-Payne). I told myself, ‘Why don't I go get better and go work with the scout team?”
Malzahn couldn’t say enough about Barber’s willingness to take a pounding on the scout team last year.
“Being a scout team guy, you learn a lot,” Auburn’s head coach said. “Those are situations that usually make or break a lot of guys when they either get tough and fight through it or they go the other way. Peyton was very — I'm not going to say a pleasant surprise — but we really got some great response from the scout team coaches and the defense, the way he showed toughness and durability and everything. That's a tough spot. A scout-team running back during season is not a popular thing to do for an average person.”
He’s continued to impress those around the program since the calendar flipped to 2014, as he’s been fighting the senior pair of Artis-Payne and Corey Grant to become Mason’s successor in the backfield.
“He’s strong. Works really hard, really runs behind his pads. He’s a big bag back, a lot like ‘CAP,’” said starting center Reese Dismukes, invoking Artis-Payne’s nickname as a means of comparison. “He’s going to get yards and he’s really agile. Hard to take down. Makes a lot of people miss. All-around, he’s a great back like we’ve had in the past. This is ‘Running Back U.’ We’re going to have good backs and he’s another one of those.”
Of course, one player on the Tigers’ roster was already well-aware of Barber’s gifts.
“He’s my high school teammate,” said defensive end Carl Lawson, who graduated from Alpharetta and was also part of Auburn’s 2013 recruiting class. “I know what type of back he is and everybody else on the team knows what type of back he is. You can ask anybody. Great player.”
If not for Lawson, it’s possible Barber would never have made it to the Plains in the first place.
“That's my best friend,” Barber said. “We were next door neighbors in high school and we didn't really (talk) recruiting coming out of high school, but he was that guy I could talk to about everything on all of my official visits. He was really one the deciding factors in me coming to Auburn, just because I wanted to have somebody that I was close to, that I could talk to.”
Though he might not be as close with Jeff Whitaker as he is with Lawson, consider the senior defensive tackle an ardent Barber backer. He tossed out adjectives like “great,” “talented” and “rare” to describe Barber’s ability.
In short, Whitaker believes Barber is a “blessing” to the Tigers’ program.
“I know when I say that some people might look at me crazy, but they will see as well that he has a bright future,” he said. “I joke with him all the time that every time I see his dad and his mom I say, ‘Well, they’re smiling for a reason,’ because they also know is future is bright. He’s a great guy. The sky’s the limit for Peyton. I can’t wait to see what God’s got in store for him.”
As much as Barber appreciated the kind words, he knows those don’t matter if he doesn’t put in the work.
Until he gets his first carry in a regular season game, he’ll simply keep his nose to the grindstone.
“I can't really be worried about that at the moment,” he said. “Just keep approaching things (the same) every day, stay prayed up.”
Excerpted from the National Center for Learning Disabilities' website, the bullet points below hit upon a few characteristics of dyslexia: