Today, I’m sitting down at lunch with running back Peyton Barber. Let’s go on in to the Bucs’ dining hall at AdventHealth Training Center to catch up with the fourth-year player.
If you’ve been keeping up with the team, Peyton is poised for a breakout season this year under new Head Coach Bruce Arians. You may know Arians, and his offenses, for the deep ball and shots downfield. But make no mistake – the run game is a big emphasis, too. And Peyton is listed as R-B-1, currently. It’s a welcome challenge for the product of Auburn University, who was signed by the Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent after his junior season in 2016. Let’s start there.
You came out of Auburn early, and you see that list every offseason of the underclassmen that come out early that don’t get drafted. Good, bad or otherwise there’s always judgments made on that. What was it for you that made you come out then and decide that was the right time?
“Uh, well one there were a couple things going on at home. My mom wasn’t in the steadiest of households, she was all over the place pretty much. We were having a conversation one night and she wasn’t nagging to me or anything like that but we were just talking about my life and the place that she was staying at, she told me they had bed bugs and, ‘I’m getting bit by the bed bugs’ and stuff like that. She was having to put on like bug spray to go to sleep and it’s like I’m in a nice dorm room. I have a queen-size bed, my own bathroom. Just hearing that I feel like that was the final straw for me. I felt like I had done enough to show that I could at least make a team and I’m going to have to work my way up. I mean nothing’s really came easy to me, so…”
It doesn’t sound like it. It sounds like it’s kind of been an uphill climb but then that affords you some kind of motivation then, doesn’t it? Especially when you get to this level. That chip on your shoulder – everyone always talks about that chip.
“Yeah, I feel like I definitely have a big chip on my shoulder. I felt like for me since things haven’t been easy, it is easy, if that makes sense. So I know when I get into a tough situation, I know at the end of the day I’m going to be okay as long as I keep my faith and everything, I’m going to be able to make it through anything.”
[It’s probably why Peyton isn’t phased when his new coaches have put the pressure on for him to perform. In fact, Peyton put a whole different kind of pressure on himself this past offseason – the pressure to graduate college. Despite coming out of school early, Peyton made a promise to finish his education and delivered on it this past May to the delight of his coaches and his family.]
What was so important to you about going back and getting your degree?
“One, I was so close to finishing when I left. I had like 20-25 more hours. That’s a semester. Two, I owed it to myself at the same time. I promised my mom I’d go back also.”
[But school, like much of Peyton’s life, hasn’t been without its challenges. He was diagnosed with a learning disability, not that he sees it that way, that has affected him all throughout his childhood and remains something he manages to this day.]
I know that you’ve been open about having dyslexia. Did that kind of aid in wanting to finish out school the right way and prove to yourself you could do it, too?
“Oh yeah, no doubt. I was told coming out of high school that I would have to go to a JuCo [junior college]. I would have to go to a two-year school or a technical college or however you want to say it, because I was in Special Ed classes until my junior year of high school. So like I said, I owed it to myself and I made a promise to my mom that I’d go back and finish.”
[Peyton’s mom is also the reason for one of his biggest interests off the field: real estate.]
And now I feel like you have all these off the field aspirations. Did you just buy a house? Did I hear that right?
“I did, yeah. I bought another house.”
You have real estate interests then? Where does that come from?
“Umm, I’ve always had real estate interests. My favorite network is HGTV [laughs]”
[Also laughing] What do you watch on HGTV?
“Property Brothers, Fixer Upper, Love It or List It.”
Do you go and decorate your house with like the Chip and Joanna Gaines collections?
“Oh yeah. I have a couple of their collections right now. You know she’s online over at Target?”
[Oh, yeah. I know]
When did that start?
“To be honest, growing up I didn’t have cable. Whenever I’d go over to my friend’s house – a lot of my friends were well off but I grew up homeless. So, whenever I would go over to my friend’s houses the TV would be on and they would want to watch cartoons and stuff like that and that would be on.”
Was it maybe aspirational even then because you didn’t have that stable house that you got to go back to?
“Yeah, now that you think of it – that could really be. I’ve just always had an interest in houses. I know when I was younger and we were going through a lot of tough times, me and my mom would – it would usually happen on Sundays – after church we would just drive around and look at nice houses and just dream, pretty much. She would always tell me, ‘you’re going to be here one day so expect it.’ I’m not quite to where I can get the big, big, big houses but you know I’m definitely well off and I’m definitely grateful for where I’m at. “
[You can kinda hear it when Peyton pauses to talk about his upbringing. Arriving at a place where he now owns not only one, but two homes, is no small feat. He has a unique appreciation for his position – and is being smart about it while he’s in it.]
Do you think that real estate is something that you’re going to end up going into maybe after football? And continuing this?
“I’m trying to do it while I’m in this. That’s what a lot of people get mixed up. You want to start stuff now instead of later. Start stuff while you have the cash. Not saying that oh, I’m spending my cash but while you have a very steady income that’s the best time. And you have a good name, a hot name – now’s the best time.”
[Looks like my previous guest, outside linebacker Carl Nassib, isn’t the only one who has his own financial philosophies and aspirations. It’s pretty safe to say real estate – and maybe HGTV – is Peyton’s number on interest outside of football. Any other free time he has, Peyton kinda does what a lot of us do.]
What do you do when you go home to chill out?
“What do I do when I go home to chill out? I’m a pretty boring person.”
Everybody says that but then you talk to somebody more and you find out that they’re into...
“I mean I literally go home and watch Netflix and I study and I talk to my girlfriend. When I get really bored, I’ll go on drives and just look at really nice houses. I’ll go by Clearwater, drive down there.”
Those are insane, those houses along the beach there.
So if you’re going along the beach path, you’re not looking at the water, you’re looking at the houses along the beach?
“I do a little bit of both.”
What are you watching on Netflix right now?
“At the moment? I just started The Flash but I’ve been watching Queen of the South.”
Me too! I just started watching that!
“I just finished it – great show.”
So Queen of the South and The Flash. Are you into super heroes?
“Yeah, I love them. I like the Marvel movies and DC.”
Did you see Endgame and are into all that?
“Oh yeah, I got close to shedding a tear when Iron Man died. Spoiler alert! Sorry. I didn’t mean to do that.”
I don’t know if I can put that in there because I don’t know if we’re past the spoiler threshold. I think I’ve seen Iron Man, that’s about it.
“Oh, so I just told you?”
“My bad. There you go”
It’s ok, I really don’t know who that is so you’re fine – to me. I might be mad at you later if I decide to get into it and I already know this.
“I think you should.”
Who’s your favorite?
“Favorite super hero? The Hulk.”
Is that like, if you were a super hero you would be The Hulk?
“Ahh, I don’t know if I’d want to be The Hulk if I were a super hero. I don’t want to be big and green. And mean. Maybe Iron Man. Yeah, Iron Man.”
Educate me, is Iron Man kind of the same as Batman where he himself isn’t anything special but with the suit and everything he makes things happen?
“Well, he’s a regular, ordinary guy. Has a lot of money.”
That’s Batman, right?
“That’s Batman also. Billionaire, yeah.”
So – ordinary person doing extraordinary things.
I like that parallel.
A parallel for Peyton himself. Though, judging from his story, there’s nothing ordinary about him.