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Scoggins: Marion Barber III we didn’t get to see was as special as the player

He didn't like to do interviews by himself. He preferred to have a teammate standing with him.

Marion Barber III was shy in public and not comfortable talking to reporters, but those weren't the biggest reasons he wanted company in interviews. He simply didn't enjoy talking about himself or being the focal point of any story about his football talent. With Barber, team always deserved more attention and credit than individual, a reflection that earned him a legion of admirers inside his locker room.

"People were in awe of him," former Gophers quarterback Bryan Cupito said, "because he was great but extremely humble."

The Gophers football family was devastated Wednesday when learning that Barber was found dead in his Dallas apartment a week shy of his 39th birthday. The cause is still being investigated by the coroner.

Barber experienced some tough times in his post-football life, but without more clarity and answers and understanding, let's not go there today. Instead, use this moment to appreciate the impact that Barber had on Gophers football, his teammates and a fan base that adored "MBIII" and his dazzling partnership with Laurence Maroney that made people take notice of a program that historically was ignored.

Former teammates talk about Barber with reverence. Not just because he ran with such power and determination, or that he became a star running back who made NCAA history sharing the ball with Maroney. They loved him because he was one of the guys, always cheerful, always laughing. He had little interest in being treated as someone special.

"He wanted to be behind the scenes," said Ukee Dozier, former cornerback and Barber's roommate. "He didn't care about the limelight. He didn't care about it and didn't want it."

The names Barber and Maroney are intertwined in Gophers lore, almost as if one name. You can't say one without including the other. They shared a backfield, shared success, shared accolades, shared billboards across the Twin Cities, even shared moped rides across campus.

They also shared interviews. I covered the team as a beat writer during the Barber-Maroney years. If I wanted to interview Barber, he brought Maroney with him. They spoke as one.

They were an odd couple in personality. Barber was quiet, Maroney talkative. Barber loved that Maroney would answer most of the questions.

That was our public view of Barber. Teammates saw the other side daily. They only knew Barber as being playful and uproariously funny and constantly in a good mood.

"He was a goofball," Dozier said.

Said Darrell Reid: "He had a different persona privately than publicly."

Reid was a year older than Barber. They became close friends. Reid had a few players he looked out for, something of a big brother. He called them his "Juns" — short for junior.

Barber loved being his Jun. He sent an Instagram message to Reid last September that was signed, "Your step Jun. Lol."

Teammates are quick to share stories of Barber's devotion.

After graduating, Dozier was working at a local training facility. His car needed new tires. Barber was in town and took the car one day. He returned a few hours later. The car had new tires and shiny new rims.

Johnathan Richmond, a safety and another Barber roommate, is from North Carolina. He didn't like to fly, so he hardly ever went home for holiday breaks. Barber brought him to his house for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.

Barber became the godfather to Richmond's middle child. Richmond still refers to Barber's mother, Karen, as "Momma Barber."

"He took care of us," Richmond said.

Oh, they all argued like brothers sometimes. Dozier shared a bathroom with Barber in their apartment, which wasn't a pleasant experience.

"Marion would not clean the bathroom for nothing," Dozier said. "I would go in there and be like, Oh, come on, man. We used to go at it every so often about that."

They followed his lead on the field and then cheered as fans when he became a star for the Dallas Cowboys. Tony Brinkhaus, who blocked for him as a Gophers lineman, bought Barber's Cowboys jersey and flew to Dallas to watch him play as a senior.

"I looked up to Marion," Brinkhaus said.

So many did, and they are hurting right now. The uncertainty over the circumstances adds to their grief.

Marion Barber III will be remembered as one of the great talents in Gophers football history. The thing that mattered most to him is that he was a great teammate.