At 6-1¾ and 220 pounds, you might mistake Toledo's Barry Church for a linebacker, but most NFL teams — with a few exceptions — view him as a hard-hitting box safety at the next level. And after a four-year career of tattooing Mid-American Conference receivers, Church should get that chance. Church was an instant hit at Toledo, earning first-team All-MAC honors as a freshman. In fact, he made the all-conference first team four years in a row as one of the school's best defensive players ever.
When former UT head coach Tom Amstutz stepped down prior to Church's senior year, new coach Tim Beckman implemented Church as the "star" position (a linebacker-safety hybrid) in the new 4-2-5 scheme. The move paid off for Church, who recorded career highs in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks. He ran slow 40-yard dash times at the NFL Scouting Combine, which has hurt his draft stock some, and scouts have wondered about his level of competition. But he's a hardworking, smart performer who ran the fastest three-cone drill (6.65 seconds) of any safety at the Combine.
Church talked to PFW about his prolific college career, those disappointing 40-times, Jerome Bettis, funny sayings from Pittsburgh (his hometown) and a crippling fear of bees.
PFW: Did you come to Toledo thinking you were going to play a significant amount right away?
BC: Yes, but I didn't expect to start. I expected to get a lot of playing time my freshman year and when I got to camp things just worked out for the best.
PFW: What were the other schools you considered the most coming out of high school?
BC: The final three came down to Cincinnati, West Virginia and Toledo. When I went on my visit I just felt like Toledo was already making me a part of the team. The guys, the atmosphere, the school — it wasn't a humongous party school, so I could get my studies done, too — it just felt right for me.
PFW: Not being a party school is a negative for some guys.
BC: (laughs) Yeah, I was definitely focused on my studies.
PFW: When you played as well as you did early on, was it hard not to get a little bit of an inflated ego?
BC: Thankfully, I had my dad and my family to keep me humble. They didn't let me get bigheaded or start thinking I was better than I was. They just made sure when I went on the field that I played the best ball I could. Thanks to (my dad) I didn't let my ego take over.
PFW: In 2007 you made 19 tackles against Iowa State. Were you pretty whipped after that one?
BC: Oh, I remember it like it was yesterday. After that game, my body just felt terrible. I was in the cold tub and once I got out of it after the game I still felt so sore and beat up. That felt like the longest football game I ever played in.
PFW: I am sure it did. How did it work with the coaching change? Did they tell you right away you were switching positions in the new scheme?
BC: Yeah, they came to me and said, 'You can be a great player back deep for us, but we feel like your best value for the team would be to move up toward the box and create havoc in the backfield.' We needed to stop the run because the run was hurting us (in 2008). So they had moved me up there and thought it was the best spot for me in that defense. I had no complaints; it was a great position, but I am looking forward to playing back deep now at the next level.
PFW: Describe what exactly that "star" position is. Were you more linebacker than safety? Like a rover?
BC: It was definitely like a rover. I was in the box a lot. I was considered like a linebacker, but there were times when I was back deep. It was definitely like a hybrid-type position.
PFW: You started all 48 games in your career. I know you played hurt through some of those. Which one would you say was the closest you came to not being able to play because of injury?
BC: My freshman year against Akron, I had a really badly sprained ankle. I really didn't think I was going to play any of that game, but they taped it up, popped a few Advil and got me out there. I ended up playing pretty well that game.
PFW: You had three blocked kicks last season. What's the biggest key to blocking a kick?
BC: I would definitely say getting off the ball as quickly as you can. That way, you have already beaten one phase of it. And then it's just making sure you take the right angle to the ball so that once you block it you don't run into the kicker — or if you miss it, don't run into him. So I would say beating the offensive lineman and then taking the right angles.
PFW: Trivia question: Do you know the only other Rocket to be named All-Mac four years in a row? Hint: He's currently in the NFL now.
BC: Nick Kaczur?
PFW: Correct! Have you met him?
BC: No, I never met him. He really doesn't come by the school that much. But I look forward to meeting him next year.
PFW: Your 40-yard dash times at the Combine were in the mid-to-high 4.6 range. Was that the most disappointing part of your trip there?
BC: Oh yeah. Everything else went great. The (other) timed events and the position drills went great. I was running in the 4.4s (leading up to the Combine) in California. And at the time, I was like, 'Wow, what the heck?' I rolled both of my starts, and I had been working on that, not to roll my starts and make sure I just explode out. It might have been because of nervousness, but yeah, I was disappointed about those times.
PFW: Other guys ran slowly there, too. Do you think it was a bit of a mental thing, that it got in your head a little?
BC: Definitely. After I rolled the first one — and I felt like I didn't — but they told me I rolled and at the time I was just thinking, 'Don't roll, don't roll.' I was just going through my progressions when I was running, and it kind of just messed me up a little bit. But I'll be good.
PFW: How have you performed in your Pro Day and individual workouts since then?
BC: Definitely at my Pro Day, my position drills went really well. Everything was on point. I was catching everything. It was a great day that day and I am glad I made up for the Combine.
PFW: Have any teams talked to you about being a linebacker, maybe in a Tampa-2 style of defense? Or have most projected you to safety?
BC: Most teams have projected me to safety. There has been maybe one or two teams — I think the Seahawks and the Bengals — see me more as a Tampa-2 type outside linebacker. I am willing to play both, and whichever position takes me to that next level, I'll be playing.
PFW: Couple of fun ones here … Is it true that you wanted to be a cop in Pittsburgh growing up?
BC: Yeah, when I was really little, that's what I always wanted to be. My uncle, he was a state trooper and I remember when he used to come over our house in his uniform and I just thought it was so cool. That kind of made me want to become a police officer.
PFW: What was the last ticket you got?
BC: I had a speeding ticket my sophomore year of college when I was back home in Pittsburgh. I got caught with a speed trap. It was weird. (laughs)
PFW: Favorite Pittsburgh athlete of all time?
BC: I would have to say Jerome Bettis. He was just so big and powerful, but when he ran it was just so graceful. His feet were so quick. It was just amazing watching him play.
PFW: Did you play offense in high school?
BC: Yeah, I played receiver my senior year.
PFW: Did you try to be the Jerome Bettis of wide receivers?
BC: (laughs) Yeah, because I was a really big receiver. I got some offers to play receiver, too, but I like to play on the defensive side of the ball.
PFW: Do you use the word "yinz" in your vocabulary when you are back home?
BC: (laughs) No! A lot of people do use that word in Pittsburgh, but I don't. It's like the same as 'ya'll' it's just … weirder.
PFW: I had to ask people what that meant the first time I heard it. Your mother is a health insurance manager, right? What does she think of the new national health-care plan that was just passed?
BC: You know, I didn't ask her about that yet. I am going to have to ask about that later. I totally forgot. I am going to have to get her opinion on that.
PFW: What's there to do for fun in Toledo? We used to drive through there growing up, and I don't remember it being the prettiest place on earth.
BC: It's not the prettiest place at all. It's kind of run-down. I mean, there's not much to do around here but work out, go to class and just hang out. Other that that, it's not a real big city, so there's not much to do.
PFW: So you won't be building a mansion there after signing your first pro contract.
BC: Oh, no, I won't be coming back to Toledo. Maybe for a game or an alumni thing or something.
PFW: Best or most interesting class you took in school?
BC: My UT:10 News class. I was a part of the news team. It was really interesting.
PFW: Ah, journalism class. So will you be taking my job in 10 years or so?
BC: (laughs) I hope so. I want to try the broadcasting field after playing.
PFW: What's your biggest fear?
BC: I would say my biggest fear would be failure. Not living up to the expectations I have for myself.
PFW: That's a nice answer, but too easy. I am thinking how some people have a fear of snakes, heights, or eating veal or something?
BC: Like a phobia? I would say bees. When I was like 5, I got attacked by a swarm of yellow jackets or bees, and ever since then I have just been terrified of bees. I can't go around them or anything.
PFW: Well, don't worry, I won't question your toughness. Here's one to beef up your ego: Biggest hit you laid out on someone in college?
BC: My freshman year against Kansas on ESPN, the receiver went up the middle and I was coming down from my safety position. He just didn't see me coming. I pretty much destroyed him. It was pretty bad.
PFW: No, you mean pretty good. I am a Missouri grad and heartily encourage such disregard for Jayhawk health. You guys won that game, right? Double overtime if I am not mistaken?
BC: Yep, double overtime.
PFW: Do you remember the receiver?
BC: I think it was Marcus … Marcus Henry.
PFW: Best offensive player you faced in college?
BC: My whole career, best offensive player, I would have to say Dan LeFevour. He was really good. Great playmaker. You could take one thing away from him and he would just come back and beat you the other way. Take away his legs and he would throw it over the top of you. It was just really hard going against him.
PFW: Where will you be on draft weekend?
BC: I will be in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
PFW: Is it a little nerve-wracking that the draft is now spread out over three days, not knowing what day you'll be picked?
BC: Yeah, I like the old format better, how it was before. I don't like (the new) schedule. I would rather have it all knocked out quicker.
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