After a Pee Wee League football coach told 9-year old Jesse Barrows his tackling technique needed extra work, Kathy Barrows toted her son to the family back yard for one-on-one drills.
It was there Kathy Barrows volunteered to get knocked down again and again by Jesse’s tackles until he got it right.
“Jesse would break down and grab me around the legs and put me down,” Kathy Barrows said. “When I got tired I made him practice on his sisters. Everybody got beat up that night.”
Kathy Barrow’s act of unconditional love was for a son who survived a heart-lung operation at birth and proved his own doctor’s prediction wrong that Jesse would never become a high school quarterback.
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Jesse Barrows has overcome a life-threatening condition called meconium aspiration syndrome and will be the Piper quarterback when the Bengals (2-3) visit Class 8A state power Deerfield Beach (5-0) on Friday.
“It comes up to me before every game,” Jesse Barrows said. “What I been through and see where I am at now. I am real thankful. I pray. I just go on the field and go play. It helps me handle more adversity and handle the challenges. That if I can overcome that I can overcome anything that comes in my way.”
Given the ordeal Jesse Barrows went through as an infant, the daunting challenge of facing perennial state power Deerfield in Jesse’s first full action at quarterback since sustaining a concussion in the season opener pales in comparison.
Barrows was diagnosed at birth. Meconium aspiration syndrome is a condition when a newborn risks suffocation after breathing fecal matter and amniotic fluid into the lungs.
Instead of exchanging a heartfelt embrace with her son for the first time, Kathy Barrows was left with two photographs of Jesse as he underwent extracorporeal membrane oxygenation [ECMO], a heart-lung bypass treatment at Miami Children’s Hospital.
“The doctors said it was the worse case they had seen,” Kathy Barrows said. “They didn’t know if he would make it. Jesse inhaled meconium, that is like tar, into his lungs. Usually babies stay on the ECMO three to five days. Jesse had to stay on for 17 days with a respirator. Once he was surgically removed from the machine he had to stay on the respirator for 10 more days.”
The condition led to Jesse dealing with breathing issues until he was 5.
Despite the odds stacked against him, Jesse Barrows convinced his mother to play tackle football for the first time at 9 years old and has won over teammates with his fighting spirit.
Piper first-year coach Roger Mitchell said that while Jesse Barrows doesn’t have the prototype size at 5-10, 170 pounds nor the cannon arm, he brings winning intangibles such as toughness and poise under pressure to the most important position on the field.
While opponents draw up game plans to stop Travis Liburd, the county’s leading rusher, a large part of the Piper’s success rests on Barrows absorbing punishment as he sells the play fakes in the Bengals’ signature spread-read option.
“Jesse is a hard-knocks kid,” Mitchell said. “He doesn’t throw the perfect spiral and is not super fast. He just has the mental toughness, the will, to keep fighting on. Sometimes when you don’t have the most gifted kid playing quarterback, you want somebody that fights and never gives up. Jesse puts his body on the line every play.”
A five-inch scar on Barrows’ neck serves as a constant reminder to the medical ordeal he had to overcome at birth. From that precarious beginning, he has gone from an infant in danger of never breathing again to a scrappy quarterback who has breathed life back into a Piper program seeking a return to glory.
“Jesse shows he has the drive to be that underdog player and come up from nothing to ignore the nonsense and become the player he dreams to be,” Piper standout cornerback/wide receiver Paul McDonald said. “You really can’t look at his stats. You would have to look in his heart to know what is going on. Since he is an underdog in life that puts a chip on our shoulders that we want to fight and prove people wrong, too.”