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Few players pulled on a national team jersey more than Danny Barrett in 2014. Getting plenty of face time with fans by playing both 7s and 15s regularly, he’s becoming one of America’s favorite Eagles. His hard-charging runs, lethal stiff-arms and bone-crunching shoulder charges are trademark moves.
“I love his combination of he’s a hard-ass who can run over you or run around you,” Eagles coach Mike Tolkin said of Barrett.
“Danny’s going to have moments that really no one else can have. He’s going to have a run where he bumps somebody off and collapses an entire defensive structure,” Cal coach Jack Clark said.
Danny is the youngest in a line of three rugby-playing brothers, all of whom played at Cal. Jim, the oldest, was an All-American prop. Neil was a standout hooker. It was on their high school tour of Ireland that 14-year-old Danny first played rugby.
“One of the boys had gotten hurt, and I said, ‘Hey, if you guys need me, I can throw some boots on and run,’” recalled Danny. “The last kind of five minutes of the last game of the tour I got in, and ever since then it’s been a love affair, really.”
Just as Barrett followed his brothers to Ireland, he followed them to Berkeley, where he became a three-time All-American in the back row.
“Once my older brother got in it opened my eyes to a college career in the game, and once Neil, my middle brother got in, it was, alright, I want to go as well, now,” said Danny. “Pretty much every school I went to my older brothers went there first, so why change it then?”
In 2009, with Danny as a freshman, Neil a junior and Jim a fifth-year senior, all three got on the field together at Ft. Lauderdale Ruggerfest in Florida.
“It was pretty special for my family. The one thing my junior and senior year of high school was my dad really wanted me to go to Cal, because then it would be all three of us there,” said Danny. “He shed a tear or two when I got accepted, so it was a pretty special moment for them to see us all together on the field.”
Barrett was a highly regarded recruit when he first arrived on campus, and he delivered throughout his career, but not always consistently. You’d see him make a miraculous play then go dormant for half an hour.
“At times he was a bit of an enigma on the field, but keep in mind he would go into games and take them over,” said Clark.
“UBC would come to town, and they were really good, and Danny would take over that game single handedly – just pick up a dirty ball at the base of the scrum and turn it into this penetration phase of rugby we could play off of when we might not have deserved the right to have that high of a quality of a ball. He would just take over a game.”
“He really needs challenges,” added Tolkin, who followed Barrett’s collegiate career from afar. “Because Cal was winning big a lot of the time, my sense of it is he didn’t get up for a lot of those games, but when he needed to, he always did.”
Barrett offers a different explanation.
“I kind of just figured out, probably toward the end of my career at Cal, working through being tired. You can be as fit as you want, but no one’s ever going to be fit enough to play an 80-minute game at such a high level,” he said. “So kind of blocking out the voice in your head and continuing to go is something I just learned and am still kind of learning now.”
Another road block in Barrett’s path was a suspension his senior year, causing him to miss the fall of 2012 and the beginning of 2013. The reason behind the suspension was never revealed, but Barrett looks back on it as a learning experience.
“I think it was actually a big step in maturing. It happened. It was an unfortunate event. It was something I’d like to have back, but it happened,” he said. “It really put a lot on my plate to step up and mature a bit more. I had to get my head around what I wanted to do with my life, with my rugby career. It was almost kind of a good thing. Things happen, you learn from it, you move on and you look to the future.”
Barrett’s suspension didn’t come with a shot clock. He had a litany of boxes he had to check before he could be reinstated, and he worked impressively to do just that.
“Danny was so accountable during that period of time, just so amazingly accountable. He accepted responsibility, and probably put together a body of work during that suspension that no one I know could have done,” said Clark. “Danny had to kind of get through a lot of work and rebuild some trust, and he did it in a way that was spectacular.”
Barrett’s suspension ended in time for Cal’s Varsity Cup campaign, and he helped lead the Bears to a heartbreaking loss to BYU in the championship game that spring. His decorated collegiate career would end on a high note, though, as Cal claimed its first-ever Collegiate Rugby Championship title a few weeks later. Barrett led the tournament in tries, scoring two in the final against Life.
“It’s cool to be able to say I was on the team that won the first CRC in Cal history,” said Barrett. “There’s not a lot of firsts in Cal Rugby anymore, so that was a good thing. It’s a pretty special moment that we have in the bank.”
Barrett toured with the All Americans the summer after graduating, and he was pulled into Tolkin’s camp for the Americas Rugby Championship that fall. It was there, when he de-cleated a Canadian en route to a try, that he made his mark on the international stage. Since that tournament, Barrett’s trailed with Gloucester, globetrotted with the 7s Eagles and earned caps against Scotland and the All Blacks.
He won’t be any less busy anytime soon. His focus is currently on 7s, with Olympic qualification to play for the rest of the 2014/2015 World Series. And if the Eagles don’t book a ticket through the Series, the regional Olympic qualifier is in June. Then it’s all about the World Cup through November.
“It’s been great so far. Definitely don’t want to stop anytime soon, that’s for sure,” said Barrett of the ride he’s been on since graduating from Cal. “I’m just lucky to be able to get the chance to do everything I have done, to be able to go play in so many different countries, to represent our great country. It’s an honor to pull the jersey on every time and to pull the practice jersey on every single day. It’s been like drinking from a fire hose – it’s not very easy, but once you get the hang of it you want to go back for more.”