Oblivious to the impact that answering his phone would have on his future, 28-year-old Chris Barrett took a call from USC fan Joe Wang in June 2013 that would ignite his hero’s journey. In his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, psychologist and mythical researcher Joseph Campbell reveals the monomyth—a series of stages that every hero encounters regardless of his origin, upbringing or existence—living or imagined. The lives changed by Chris along his journey, the personal goals accomplished, and his plans for the future drop Chris Barrett into the center of Campbell’s monomyth.
THE CALL TO ADVENTURE
Wang’s phone call to Chris presented him with an adventure—a chance to make history establishing China’s first ever university football program. His chance meeting with Joe Wang at the gym catalyzed Chris’s journey. Wang knew Chris from Chris’s days playing football at USC and wanted to bring the sport into the university system in China.
In the “Call to Adventure,” the hero must be offered a chance to enter a world completely foreign to him. For Chris, this certainly was the case. Neither had he ever visited China, nor had he plans to do so. Living in Southern California, Chris had coached football at Servite High School for two years, and then two at Lakewood.
When he played for Coach Miller at Tustin High School, Chris gained a passion for football. At 6’5” the teenager always thought he’d play basketball until Miller met him and told Chris that if he played football and worked hard he’d earn a Division 1 scholarship. In 2003 Chris earned that scholarship to USC where he played for the Trojans during the reign of Pete Carroll.
ACCEPT THE CALL
Chris’s love and passion for American football impelled him to “Accept the Call” to pioneer the sport in a country, arguably, the least likely to embrace it as part of a higher learning institution. Through Wang, Chris met Ken Li of the American Football Union (AFU) who offered Chris the job. Because he possessed the desire to accept a challenge that many would never attempt in the world of football, Chris boarded an airplane bound for Beijing, China two months after the call. He saw the potential to take his passion for football and transfer his knowledge to young men in China who had little exposure to the sport that Chris viewed as metaphorical for life experience. It wouldn’t be easy, and that underdog status, in part, drove Chris east to inspire underdog players. Thirty-five curious Chinese college students attended the first practice of that investigative trip to Beijing. That practice convinced Chris and Ken that it could be done—American football at the college level just may prove successful.
ENTER THE UNKNOWN
When he stepped onto Chinese soil, Chris “Entered the Unknown.” Maneuvering streets buzzing with people who stared at the 6’5” muscular African-American, Chris welcomed their curiosity. Many Smartphones illuminated with photos of the football coach smiling and towering above clusters of people who approached him. “It’s like they’re seeing a ghost,” Chris laughs. In a land with foreign food, foreign language, and a political system the antithesis of his home country, Chris worked to build a university football program from nothing at the Harbin University of Commerce (HUC) in Harbin, China.
Chris started by holding camps. Sixty athletes turned up at the first day, and only 25 the next. Starting small, Chris built the program on fundamentals—how to run properly and strengthen the core. “We didn’t even touch a football for three to four weeks,” Chris explains. He invented a throwing and catching game just to see who had natural talent without being coached. From there Chris built the team all by himself. And he began immediately teaching his players about the importance of forming the team into a family. The players at HUC were small compared to those at a neighboring university, the Harbin Institute of Physical Education. And Chris had just a few months to prepare HUC to play Harbin Institute in a game that would make history. Chris simultaneously started the football program at the Harbin Institute building programs at both schools.
A critical part of honing his athletes, Chris knew, would be training them to love each other and to work as individuals for the good of the entire team. Because everyone wants to be a quarterback or a receiver, Chris explained to his players the philosophy he learned from his high school coach, Coach Miller, “Ten men block so one can run.” Even though the guy crossing the goal line with the ball gets the glory, the score wouldn’t have been possible without the other players. Linemen learned that they were big brothers who had to protect their little brothers. Coach Barrett knew he’d need that family atmosphere to help HCU in their big game against the bigger, stronger players at Harbin Institute in the first ever Chinese university football game that would be held in September with an audience of 26,000.
China’s First Ever University Football Program Part II – Chris’s journey continues . . .