Ryan Barkley got onto the field at Montana State in the first round of the playoffs. It was the biggest moment of his Bobcat career, but his mind took him back to Durango after the game in Bozeman, Montana.
Barkley wanted to play more football. He wanted to do it in his hometown of Durango.
The 6-foot-5, 285-pound offensive tackle and 2018 Durango High School graduate enrolled in classes Monday at Fort Lewis College. After two seasons at Division I Montana State, he wanted a chance to be a key piece in the Division II Skyhawks’ quest to build a program.
“Mid-season to toward the end, and after playing in the couple of games that I got in, I knew I kind of wanted to come closer to home and keep playing football,” Barkley said. “Playing those couple of games reminded me of how much I love football.
“I’ve had a ton of fun at MSU. The team and atmosphere and coaches were all great.”
Barkley, son of Jillian and William Barkley, played limited snaps at Montana State in 2019 during his redshirt freshman season. As a young backup offensive tackle, he got an early chance to see the field on one of the best NCAA Football Championship Subdivision programs in the country.
The Bobcats hosted University of Albany in the first round of the FCS Playoffs and earned a 47-21 win. Barkley got a chance to play in that game. The next week, Montana State rolled to a 24-10 home win against Austin Peay. The Bobcats’ season would come to an end eight days later in a 42-14 loss to eventual national champion North Dakota State in a game played in Fargo, North Dakota.
“Getting to be in two home playoff games in a sold-out stadium was really cool. Getting to play in that UAlbany game and be part of an FCS playoff game, it was incredible,” Barkley said.
Barkley, who was named to the all-state team as a senior at DHS, has added about 20 pounds since high school and looks every bit the part of a big-time college offensive lineman.
He enjoyed life playing in a Division I program. Ultimately, though, he was ready for a change and a chance to have time off at home where he can enjoy a Colorado summer and spend more time with friends and family.
Once he entered the transfer portal, several other colleges were interested, but Barkley was most excited about the chance to come home and finish his career in front of his family and friends.
“To be a walk-on at that level and stick it out for two years and travel and play a little bit shows a lot about how much he loves the game,” FLC head coach Brandon Crosby said of Barkley. “I know how hard it is to go through that process up there. Being away from home, they don’t get summers off like we do. It’s a year-round deal. He loves football, and that’s what I loved about him and our conversation. He just wants to play.”
Barkley was able to consult a close friend when it came to FLC football. Fellow 2018 DHS graduate Max Hyson has spent the last two seasons with the Skyhawks and was able to inform Barkley about the direction of the program under Crosby. Hyson saw time as a special teams starter last year and plays defensive end. Barkley is looking forward to going against his buddy in practices this spring and fall before the 2020 season. Barkley hopes more local players will consider FLC coming out of high school, too.
“Going from a D-I and dropping to a D-II, I’ve realized that, at the end of the day, it’s all football,” Barkley said. “If you love the game, you don’t have to go to a place because it’s a bigger place or name or whatever. Go to a place because you love football and want to play football. No matter what level you’re in, you can make a name for yourself. I hope me and Max being at the Fort will encourage more kids from DHS to come to the Fort and play ball.”
Barkley said he had a strong connection with Crosby after the first time they spoke. He is energized about the direction of FLC under the second-year head coach and wants to help the team improve upon a 3-7 finish in 2019 in which a few plays were the difference in a 5-5 or even 6-4 record.
The big lineman has pride in his hometown, and now he has pride in FLC.
“Fort Lewis is underrated in Durango. If we start winning games, I think a lot more people in the community will come to our games, and that can have a great impact for the school, team and town,” he said. “If we win games, people from out of town will start coming in for games, and that brings money to the town. We can have a good impact on the whole community. I want to be a key part in building something.
“I know Crosby is a really good guy and cares a lot about the program and the players in the program. I’m excited to be here.”