Feature of the Week
February 22, 2020
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A walk on spot for Barbato

  • Connor Barbato, a senior at Rancho Cotate High School, started his football career in 2008 when he played for the Rohnert Park Warriors Football and Cheer organization. He went on to play football at Rancho Cotate High School and after graduation he will go on to play football at UCLA. Photo by Jane Peleti

By: Joshua Farestveit-Moore
February 22, 2019

Jack of all trades, master of none, often better than a master of one—that’s the full saying and it applies in double measure to Rancho Cotate senior and athlete, Connor Barbato. 

Looking at Connor. one wouldn’t expect the youth to stand as both a skilled athlete and a top tier student. He’s lanky, with a clean cut face and short cropped black hair; it’s a combo that doesn’t exactly stick out in a crowd, yet standing out is kind of what Connor does best. In his studies, basketball, lacrosse, and, yes, football especially, Connor’s drive and pursuit of greatness has taken him to the top. 

That drive is probably why UCLA, a NCAA Division I School, offered him a preferred walk on spot with the Bruins football team in the Fall, which Connor accepted. 

“There aren’t many opportunities to play Division I football, so for my first one to be UCLA is crazy,” Connor said. “Football is where my heart is. That feeling of not being able to imagine myself without it? It was stronger with football than with basketball or lacrosse.”

Ever since Connor was young he had an inquisitive mind—one that bordered on the irritating. His parents, Shannon and Jason Connor, described him as a precocious youth, high energy with an intense desire to know the ‘why’ of things. 

“Connor is an intelligent kid. He’s a smart kid. As a child he knew this. Energy and intelligence means challenging his parents. It means challenging his teachers,” Jason said. 

If young Connor didn’t understand the reason behind something, then he was unlikely to comply. That behavior often led to complaints from his instructors, and so his parents directed his energy towards sports, which Connor took to like an otter to water. 

At first he tried baseball, but baseball is a slow sport that didn’t really jive. Next Connor picked up basketball and lacrosse, which he still plays. Eventually he found his way to the Rohnert Park Warriors. There at last he discovered his home. He spent a couple of good years playing football, but it was an aimless pastime—the drive, the passion that defines Connor to this day, came a bit later. 

In fifth grade his family moved to Seattle, Wash. A new town, a new school, and the first years of adolescence are a potent combination, and Connor suffered; he struggled to make friends. He involved himself with a local football team and took to it with gusto. 

“Everything happens for a reason,” Jason said. “If I look at Seattle I think that’s where Connor began to truly understand that you’ve got to work hard regardless of where you’re at. (...) As hard as it was I think everyone learned a lot—Connor learned a lot.”

Eventually Connor returned home to Rohnert Park. He took his newfound drive and combined it with his old circle of friends. Athletics grew into a passion. They were a goal, the reason for the outstanding grades, the hard work and the advanced placement classes. 

But Connor isn’t delusional. According to the NCAA only 2.5 percent of high school football players play in a division one college, like UCLA, and of that only 1.6 percent of college graduates move on to play in the NFL. Those are some rather depressing numbers for any aspiring football star, but Connor doesn’t let it get to him. He’s well aware that his future at UCLA is about more than just playing football. 

It’s about an education. 

“With school it’s been hard to balance three sports and get good grades. (...) This year I took AP Calculus and last year I took AP History,” Connor said. “There’s a standard I set for myself. I don’t want to just be good. I want to be great. I want to dominate wherever I’m at.” 

Yet graduation is still a couple months off. For now, Connor can be found at Rancho Cotate enjoying the twilight days of his high school career.