After Saturday’s win over Michigan State was long over, senior Willis Barringer went to running backs coach Fred Jackson for some advice. Barringer fumbled the ball twice during the game, and Jackson gave him some pointers on how to hold on to the pigskin.
But Barringer is not a running back – not even close. Barringer is the team’s starting free safety. What did he learn from Jackson? He said that Jackson showed him exactly how to hold the football. But that wasn’t all he learned.
“I’ll probably just fall down,” Barringer said when asked what he would do the next time he got an interception.
It’s not often that a safety manages to fumble twice in one game. Most safeties are just lucky to even touch the ball twice in one game. Barringer took care of that with two first-half interceptions.
“Well, Willis set a Michigan record in that game. He caught two passes and fumbled them both,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said.
At the very end of the first quarter, the Spartans were trailing 14-7 when they tried to get a little fancy. On first down deep in Michigan’s territory, the Spartans’ Jerramy Scott took the toss from quarterback Drew Stanton and threw a pass deep down the sideline intended for tight end Dwayne Holmes.
Barringer stepped in front of the pass and made the interception before Holmes stripped him a second later. The referee originally called it an incomplete pass because he said that Barringer never had control – but replay revealed that Barringer made the catch and Michigan took over possession.
“I thought I caught it and I thought I possessed it, but I guess they wanted to review it,” Barringer said. “I was just ready to go onto the next play and just play defense.”
Barringer got his second interception on the last play of the first half. Michigan was up by three and the Spartans had the ball on the 35-yard line. Stanton tried to get a Hail Mary down the left sideline, and Barringer was there once again.
“What goes through my mind is, ‘Thank you,’ ” Barringer said.
Shortly afterward, the safety fumbled his second interception of the game, but, just like the first time, Michigan recovered it.
At the beginning of the year, it didn’t look like Barringer would start. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds in high school, but, coming into this season, he had made just a handful of starts.
Even though the secondary lost two starters last season, the free safety position was actually settled. Junior Ryan Mundy, a two-year starter who even got significant action as a freshman, had the position all locked up. But a nerve injury has kept him from seeing significant playing time this year, and Carr said that Mundy will be out the entire season.
“I thought he would come back some time this season at least, but I just try to go in there and do as much as I can with the team,” Barringer said.
Carr said that Barringer proved himself throughout spring and fall practices, and, when it was determined that Mundy wouldn’t play, Barringer was named the starter.
“He is one of these guys that persevered,” Carr said. “I don’t think there is a more likable guy on our team. What he has done at a position where there was a lot of question about our secondary, and I think what he has done has just been outstanding. I personally couldn’t be happier for the guy because it hasn’t been easy for him.”
And now that he has the ball, Barringer has no plans of fumbling it away.