Happy new year, UCLA fans. Anthony Barr is officially staying one more season.
The Bruins’ best defensive player became an All-Pac-12 first team selection in just his first season at outside linebacker, and was also a second-team AP All-American. The junior was widely thought of as a potential first-round pick had he decided to declare for the NFL Draft.
Barr first officially announced his return on Twitter Monday afternoon: “As close as I am to my dream of playing in the NFL, I believe one more year with this awesome coaching staff and my teammates is what’s best. I will be returning for my senior season to further develop as a player and a person, to help lead this team to a Pac-12 Championship and ultimately a national championship.”
Measuring at 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, Barr made a remarkable transformation after switching from offense under former head coach Rick Neuheisel. He was slotted in at F-back, a hybrid position designed as a mix of running back, tight end and receiver. His athleticism was poorly utilized for two years in the pistol offense, as he logged just 15 carries and 12 catches.
Frustrated with his lack of production on the field, Barr thought about transferring until new head coach Jim Mora arrived late last year. Soon after UCLA hired Mora in December, Barr and the coaching staff mutually agreed that he should switch to outside linebacker.
Even after losing part of spring camp to injury, he made an immediate impact in his first appearance at the position since he was 14 years old. Debuting with a cast around his hand to protect a broken finger, he notched six tackles and a sack against Rice on Aug. 30. By the end of the regular season and conference championship, he led the nation with 13.5 sacks.
Before the Holiday Bowl last Thursday, Mora said he was excited at the thought of having Barr back for another year. The linebacker said after the 49-26 loss to Baylor that he was still undecided. For weeks, Barr had said he was leaning toward staying another season at UCLA, but was waiting for his NFL evaluation to come in.
“I have carefully explored my options and have decided to continue my football career with UCLA,” Barr said in an official release from the athletic department. “I felt a strong connection with my teammates and coaches that I do not want to see end. I will continue to pursue my degree and take part in the team drills after the Holidays. The time will come soon enough to live my dream of playing at the next level.”
Added Mora in the same release: “Anthony considered his options and we are glad he has chosen to stay with his teammates to continue the mission to move Bruin football forward in the new year.”