September 21, 2023

Hogan: the Argos Silent Sackmaster

Most fans of the Toronto Argonauts would know that Folarin Orimolade leads the team with nine quarterback sacks.

But who is second on the list?

Shawn Oakman would be a good guess, as would Dewayne Hendrix. Is it Robbie Smith? Perhaps it’s Wynton McManis or Adarius Pickett, given how often they’re in the offensive backfield.

Good guesses, but all incorrect. Sitting in second place with seven quarterback sacks is a player that many fans would have to look up because he has such a low profile.

Last week Brandon Barlow sacked Montreal’s Cody Fajardo three times to move into sole possession of eighth place on the CFL sack list. Argonauts.ca asked the Cohees, New York native when was the last time he had three sacks in a game; college, high school (where he was All-State twice), maybe Pop Warner.

“Never,” he said with a smile. “The most I had was two and that was when I was in college.”

When Barlow signed with the Argos last August there was no fanfare. The roster addition initiated zero conversation, even among diehards.

But the Argos coaching staff quickly found out what a valuable player Barlow could be. At 6’4”, 260 pounds, he was fast enough to play end and big enough to take reps at tackle, should they want to line up with a lighter, quicker front four.

He’d finish the 2022 season with just one sack – against Hamilton’s Dane Evans – but was a regular member of the team’s defensive line rotation, culminating with a pair of tackles in the Grey Cup win over Winnipeg.

What did he do to prepare for this season, one where he’s been even more effective than he was in his rookie campaign?

“I’ve enhanced my routine this year,” he said. “I’ve made it a little more consistent for myself in terms of lifting, eating and sleeping, and watching film. Those are the four things that I’ve really focused on this year that I think have helped me be a little more aggressive in my game and development.”

He’s counting his hours to make sure he gets enough sleep each day and is eating more often during the day; smaller meals that are spread out more.

The most difficult dietary adjustment was cutting out his two biggest cheat foods.

“I’m a sucker for McDonald’s and I’m also a sucker for donuts,” he said with a laugh. “Those two are my kryptonite, so I’ve got to be cautious whenever I’m driving around and I see them, so I just keep pushing.”

Barlow is doing everything he can do to make himself the best player he can be. He’s able to combine that discipline with the genetics and mentorship provided by his father Reggie, who played defensive line/outside linebacker at Auburn before playing four years of pro football.

“He really motivated me as someone who I saw that did it,” said Brandon of his dad. “He also helped coach me coming up and raising me as a father. Just knowing what the expectation is, knowing the grind that it takes and he’s really been able to help me in some areas, whether it be on or off the field, whether it was physical or mental, just dealing with the ups and downs that come with the game. He’s been a major impact on my career and help me become the player that I am.”

With that said, having a parent with a great track record as a player can be a double-edged sword. They want to help their child in the best possible way, but that child – in this case a professional football player – also has coaches, who also entrusted to bring out the best in that same player.

“I would say he’s found a nice healthy balance,” said Brandon. “I know he wanted to be hands on all the time, but at the same time he knew he needed to take a step back and let me naturally fall in love with the game, which I did. Once that happened it was over; at that point I was going to him, saying ‘let’s do this, let’s do that, let’s work on this, let’s work on that.’ I think he did a good job letting me find a natural love for the game.”

Barlow has been almost completely out of the limelight so far in Toronto, but with his play earning him more and more attention, he’s ready to receive the additional attention he’s been earning. Armed with a bachelor’s degree in communications from Boston College he’s ready to do interviews, instead of simply letting his excellent play do all the talking.