During the process of recruiting, from the initial period until it’s time for a player to leave for the college of his or her choice, the majority of attention goes to that athlete–and rightfully so because of the huge achievement that they’ve accomplished.
However, an aspect that often gets overlooked is what the parents feel. The emotions after years of supporting them, training them, transporting them to practices and just being there for them. When a child leaves for college, that close relationship can be fractured as they go off to live on their own.
That can become an even bigger deal when that young man or woman decides to attend a college hundreds or even thousands of miles away from home and that was the case with Pitt freshman wide receiver Jaylon Barden.
Barden was a big piece of Pitt’s Class of 2020 as he came to Pitt as a 4-star wide receiver from Westside High School in Macon, Georgia. Macon is a long ways away from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (731 miles, give or take) and there’s been quite an adjustment period for the Barden family.
Pittsburgh Sports Now had the pleasure of speaking with Jaylon’s parents, Jeffrey and Kenya, to find out what it’s been like to have their only child away from home for the first time, advice they’ve given him and also how proud they are of what Jaylon has accomplished.
“For me, it was a bittersweet moment when Jaylon left,” said Jeffrey Barden. “We put so much time into his development, being a parent, taking him to the practices, helping him with school work and all the energy and effort that goes with that. After first it was like that’s over with and we’ll have some free time but at the same time, it was sad seeing him leave home. Ultimately, I was just very excited for him to have the opportunity to attend such a prestigious university and to be able to reach his dreams and goals.”
“For me, it was more emotional,” said Jaylon’s mom Kenya. “I knew that he’d be able to get the job done and be OK once he got to Pitt but he is my only child and he was going way to a place that was very far. I was feeling a lot of emotions but I was just very happy because I know that he’ll be making all of us very proud.”
The Barden’s tried to do their best the last few years prepping Jaylon to leave home and be on his own but they still had advice for him before leaving Macon for Oakland.
“I’m a military veteran, having served in the Army, and during his whole upbringing, I wanted to always instill in him how big of a deal discipline is and the importance of having a consistent work ethic,” said Mr. Barden. “I made sure he knew that the only way you’ll achieve your goals is through working hard. We also made sure he wasn’t worried about the distance and it was Ok to be so far away from home. It’s more important to be at a university that you can have success at. As parents, we really made sure that we were trying to always relay the same message to him as parents.”
The biggest adjustment that the Barden’s are making is not being able to speak with and see their son everyday. I asked them if they have a regular schedule in which they communicate and while Mr. Barden is very flexible, Kenya wants a day and time to see her boy.
“I require that he calls or face times me at least twice a week,” said Kenya laughing. “He kept to that schedule at the beginning but lately it’s been once a week.”
This season has been a big adjustment for Jaylon himself as he’s gone from a star on his high school football team to being on a roster full of talented receivers and waiting for that opportunity to showcase his skills. Jaylen undoubtedly wants to be on the field but his parents tell me he realizes the situation and will be patient.
“Being a competitor, of course he wants to be on the field and wants to do as much as he can for his team so he gets angry and frustrated but at the same time, he tells me he’s going to be patient and will stay humble as he tries to learn as much as he can. Then when his time comes, he’ll be sharp and ready to be great,” said Mr. Barden.
— Jaylon Barden (@BardenJaylon) November 9, 2020
The Barden family are extra excited because Jaylon will be back in Georgia this Saturday as Pitt takes on Georgia Tech. This will be the second consecutive weekend that they’ve had the chance to watch him on the field as they made the trip last Saturday to Tallahassee for the Florida State game.
As mother and father, they’ll be feeling a lot of emotions seeing their son return to his home state and running onto the field as a major college athlete, it’ll be a dream come true.
“We’re just very proud of him and seeing him when he’s been on TV, it’s a big deal because he’s doing something that he truly loves.” said Kenya. “It’s going to be very special and we’ll support him all the way.”
“It’s a dream come true,” said Jeffrey Barden. “Because a lot of players play football but a small percent run out of tunnel as a Power 5 player. I remember when he caught his first pass in his first game that went for 68 yards, it was so surreal. What’s happening to him and us is just straight living a dream. There’s nothing that we can achieve in our lives that will make us feel like we do seeing him have the success that he’s having. There’s nothing like it in the world.”