As one of the most talented halfbacks in Southeast Kansas, Caiden Barber wowed the Pittsburg faithful with explosive plays out of the backfield.
But for his coaches, teammates, classmates, family and friends, Barber left a lasting impression both on and off the field.
“Caiden was a very good person.” said teammate Cooper Hayden. “Very light-hearted — he could put a smile on your face.”
“He was always in a good mood and had a smile on his face,” said teammate Jackson Turnbull. “I had math class with him my junior year, and he was always cracking jokes. He was a joy to be around. He was the hardest worker I’ve ever known.
“You could never give Caiden a task and he wouldn’t get it done. I wish I had half of the work ethic that he had.”
For Hayden, who shared a backfield with Barber as Pittsburg’s starting quarterback, seeing Barber make defenders miss on his way to big plays was a frequent occurrence.
“I played with Caiden since fourth grade,” said Hayden. “And every time he touched the ball, he had a chance to score. I have about 10 memories of turning around and handing the ball off and watching him make three guys miss and outrun everyone and score a touchdown. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve seen that.
“His combination of speed and agility made him untouchable.”
Barber, a 2022 PHS graduate, was found unresponsive in the Pittsburg YMCA pool on June 6. He was later pronounced dead at Ascension Via Christi Hospital. He was 19.
“He set the bar high because of the drive he had,” said Pittsburg football coach Josh Lattimer. “He set goals and he wanted to reach them. He was a guy that would be out on the practice field after hours and early in the morning, just him, pushing to be the best he can be.
“I spoke to him a few days before his accident, and he wanted to get some ice for an ice bath to relax his muscles because he was pushing himself so hard. That was just Caiden Barber — he was going to try to be the best he could possibly be in everything and anything he did.”
Lattimer, who played football with Caiden’s father Romon at Pittsburg State and against him in high school, recruited Caiden while he was coaching at Pittsburg State, and he was a member of Dragons coach Tom Nickelson’s staff during Caiden’s senior season.
“He was a super-talented athlete,” said Lattimer. “He was kind and soft-spoken. Caiden led by example — he wouldn’t ask his teammates to do something he wouldn’t do himself.”
“I heard about Caiden before I started at Pittsburg,” said LC Davis, Pittsburg wrestling coach and a member of Lattimer’s coaching staff. “And as soon as I got the job, people were saying ‘Hey, you got to get this kid Caiden Barber out for wrestling.’ At the time he was an eighth-grader, so I started sinking my teeth into it right away. I didn’t end up getting him out for wrestling until his junior year, but he was on my radar from the beginning.”
Along with his pursuits on the football field, Barber also became a standout wrestler.
“Caiden was a very determined individual,” said Davis. “Someone with big aspirations and goals. Super talented and athletic. Soft-spoken, kind-hearted and an extremely hard worker. It’s one thing to be talented, but it’s another thing to be humble enough to know that you can improve and that’s what Caiden was.
“He didn’t get to play his senior year,” said Davis. “But for him to stick with the team and go to the games to support his teammates showed a lot about his character. He thought about more than himself, and that was very impressive.”
Pittsburg offensive coordinator Matt Butler served as halfback coach during Barber’s junior season, where Barber separated himself as one of the top halfbacks in the state.
“For most people, the first thing that comes to mind when you mention Caiden is his supreme athleticism,” said Butler. “But he was a very good-hearted kid. I started coaching him in seventh grade in middle school track, and I knew right away he was different.
“From seventh grade to the latter half of his junior year, he was a quiet kid that led by example. He would work his tail off. When weights or practice was over, he was out on the field doing agility drills. It's going to be weird walking on to the practice field this year and not seeing him flipping tires or doing agility drills.
“I’ll never forget after we got beat by Basehor-Linwood his junior year. He spoke up to his teammates and he let them know that this was not a good feeling and that we needed to unite and work harder to be a better team. And I thought ‘Holy cow, this is a different kid.’
“Something about him that not everyone knows is that he would get to some practices a little late or leave a little early because he was roofing houses. He would put in a two-hour workout, roof a house and then come to practice. So he was putting together a full-day of work that not many people could do.”