Da’Ron Barksdale wants to be better than Paris Ford. That’s a tough ask. But Barksdale did grow up watching Ford star at Steel Valley, then Pitt and now with the New Jersey Generals in the USFL.
He’s confident. And he’s certainly told Ford that he’s going to be better in the end.
“I always tell him, ‘I’m trying to be better than you, but I honestly think I’m gonna be a little better than you.’ I just gotta get more explosive,” Barksdale told Pittsburgh Sports Now. “Because he’s a hard hitter. His eyes, his ball control is crazy. So, I just hope I’m gonna be a better player than him.”
Ford was an elite recruit out of Steel Valley in the Class of 2017, choosing Pitt over basically any school he wanted. Barksdale is part of the new wave. He’s a recruit from Steel Valley in the Class of 2026. He’s still years away, but Pitt has certainly noticed.
So, when Barksdale — a 5-foot-10, 175-pound defensive back from Steel Valley — picked up an offer from Pitt last month, the first person he called was Ford.
I’m blessed to receive my 4th division one scholarship from the University of Pittsburgh! This one special! 🟡🔵@CoachDuzzPittFB @coachcsanders @Pitt_FB @Evolve2tenths @210ths @DulinOlando @sharkomartin @EdOBrienCFB @DiddyBop12_ pic.twitter.com/WOrq3kmRKz
— Da’Ron“Daedae”Barksdale⚡️🧟♂️ (@DaronBarksdale) May 19, 2023
Pitt was Barksdale’s fourth Division I offer, following Syracuse, UNLV, West Virginia and since joined by Akron, and he made it out to the South Side facilities for the first time on May 31.
“It was very amazing,” Barksdale said. “I ain’t going to lie, everybody was just perfect surrounding me. It just felt comfortable. It felt just like I was at home a little bit.
“It just felt amazing. Me just being there my whole life. It’s not even seven miles away from my house. It’s just amazing. It’s just — it’s crazy to think about it that way.”
He was able to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers practice, spend time with the coaching staff and experience what it’s like to sit in on team meetings with the defensive backs.
“The best part of the experience to me wasn’t even the visit itself,” Barksdale said. “It was being inside the meetings with them and understanding what they’re saying. To be honest, I didn’t understand anything they would say, but I understand what they were talking about. It’s just their lingo they used is just — it’s just crazy.”
The relationship he’s built with Pitt’s coaching staff began with offensive line coach Dave Borbely, some interactions as Pitt was recruiting his teammate Cruce Brookins, but it’s progressed to the point that it’s safeties coach Cory Sanders who Barksdale has built the strongest bond with.
“Coach Cory just keeps it so real with me,” Barksdale said. “He keeps it so real with me. He’s being honest every time. He’s not gonna lie to me. For real. It’s crazy thinking about a coach, like at least a college coach, is gonna be so real with me. So, I feel like yeah, it was pretty cool.”
And the two were able to link back up as Barksdale made it out for Pitt’s camp last weekend, spending the day competing at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side.
First camp went great! Just got to fix the little thing. Overall though great camp made some plays. Also, thanks to the player and coaches for showing up on Sunday🔵🟡.@coachcsanders @Pitt_FB @210ths @Evolve2tenths @sharkomartin @DulinOlando pic.twitter.com/LW5sPblcjo
— Da’Ron“Daedae”Barksdale⚡️🧟♂️ (@DaronBarksdale) June 12, 2023
Barksdale, along with his brother Donald, have competed at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex before as part of Evolve 210ths, and he’s not very far away at Steel Valley in Munhall.
As a freshman at Steel Valley, Barksdale racked up 24 carries for 310 yards (12.9 yards per carry) and four touchdowns, seven receptions for 162 yards (23.1 yards per catch) and recorded 63 tackles (22 solo), a tackle for loss, 11 pass breakups and six fumble recoveries in a very versatile role across the field — offensively and defensively.
“I haven’t actually asked [Sanders] about my best factor, but everybody tells me it’s my ball-hawking ability,” Barksdale said. “Because every time the ball’s in the air, you might not even think I’m gonna get there, but I get there somehow.”
As a recruit in the class of 2026, Barksdale doesn’t have a rating from any of the major recruiting sites yet. But you can bet he’ll be one of the top recruits in the WPIAL when the rankings are released.
He’s received offers from Akron, Pitt, Syracuse, UNLV and West Virginia, and in his own words, Pitt is the biggest offer. It helps that he grew up in a Pitt household.
“I’m a big Pitt fan,” Barksdale said. “I would watch them every time it’d come on. My parents love Pitt. They want me to go to Pitt actually. They love the Steelers. Every time Pitt comes on it’s, ‘C’mon, come to the living room.’ It was always a tradition watching them.”
Barksdale still has a long way to go, as he is just a rising sophomore in high school, but he expects Pitt to be in the running in the long run.