Reality came crashing down on Ronnie Barber after his freshman year at UCLA.
The former Banning High star, who led the school to Los Angeles City 4-A championships in two sports and earned All-City honors at quarterback, flunked out of UCLA in 1984.
For the first time in his short life, the confidence was missing. He had failed.
"It really hurt me," Barber recalled. "I wasn't disciplined."
Barber lost his hopes of playing for the Bruins, but no eligibility because he had red-shirted. So Barber enrolled at El Camino College, hoping to redeem himself academically and play some football, too. Last season Barber starred for the Warriors and earned an associate of arts degree while he was at it.
A Starter at Fullerton
Today, Barber is starting for Cal State Fullerton as a junior and has overcome some early-season problems learning the Titan offense. Just as important, Barber says, is his success in the classroom, where he is "doing great" with a full load of courses.
But the Titans haven't been as successful on the field this year. They have been inconsistent both offensively and defensively en route to a 2-6 record.
"This is the first losing season I've ever had in my life," Barber said. "But it's a matter of just trying to keep your head up and getting better."
For Barber, who started the season as the Titans' fourth-string quarterback because he was still learning the Fullerton playbook, the season has been steadily improving--at least on the personal side.
Part of 33-0 Victory
Saturday he had his biggest day in Division I football as he threw for 156 yards and two touchdowns in Fullerton's 33-0 win over Utah State.
"It was a matter of me being able to put a complete game together," he said. "All season long we've been only playing good football in one half. What was important Saturday was that we were able to put two halves together."
It was also a matter of the 21-year-old junior being able to take charge of the offense, calling audibles for short passes against an eight-man Utah State front line that was keying on Ricky Calhoun, the fifth-leading rusher in the nation.
Barber missed spring football practice while completing his degree at El Camino, a requirement before he was eligible to play at an NCAA school. "The first few games were more of a learning experience," he said. "I couldn't audibilize until I knew the playbook.
'Got to Take Charge'
"I think it's important for the quarterback to be able to audibilize. I'm that type of person. I've got to take charge out there."
Titan Coach Gene Murphy said he's been impressed with Barber's adaptation to the Titan offense. "He's improved to the point where he can go in there and audibilize against any defense," Murphy said. "He's still got a way to go, but this is the best he's played so far."
One problem Murphy noted was Barber's willingness to throw into congested defenses. "He's very competitive and he wants to make something happen. Sometimes we'd rather he take the loss or throw it out of bounds."
But Murphy noted that as Barber becomes more familiar with the Titan offense he can only get better.
The Opponents Are Good
The shift in systems still wasn't as difficult as the change in competition levels, Barber said. "It is definitely tougher. Everybody on the defensive side of the ball is good."
That's not to say El Camino wasn't a good preparation for Division I football. In fact, Barber said. the experience was invaluable.
"I was able to redeem myself at El Camino," Barber said, emphasizing his academic turnaround.
He said the level of football helped even more athletically. "At El Camino we were in the toughest (community college) division in the nation. Coach (John) Featherstone really prepared me well. I owe him a lot. I owe him a lot and someday I hope to be able to repay him."
Barber was hinting at his dreams of playing professional football, despite his 5-foot-11, 180-pound frame. "I think I'd be ideal for the Canadian Football League," he said.
Has 3-Month-Old Son
That might cause a problem for his family, though. Barber is the father of a 3-month-old son, Ronnie III. "When I travel, I can't take care of Ronnie," he said.
But Barber and the baby's mother, Kim Tillman, plan to be married and the boost in income Canadian football would offer might be too tempting, he said.
"I would love to go to Canada," he said. "It's a business and if the money's good, I'm gone."
If his performance continues to improve next season, that dream could be possible. Barber has completed 68 of 129 passes for 880 yards and 7 touchdowns this year.
For now, though, Barber is concentrating on Fullerton, where he says the transition has been smooth. "It's a school that fits my style. Our quarterbacks roll out and we do some drop-back passing," Barber said. "I had a chance to come out here right from Banning but I turned them down. How can you turn down UCLA?"
But the second time around, Barber says, "There wasn't another school that could have kept me from coming here."