Joe Barber has taken a familiar path to becoming a Division I athlete.
The native of Syracuse, New York, joined coach Kerry McCoy's wrestling program at Maryland after winning 98 career matches at Cicero-North Syracuse High School. His start in the sport came in the sixth grade when he enjoyed the wrestling unit in his gym class and picked up a flyer for club wrestling.
"It's funny because I was like 60 pounds, so I was so small," Barber said. "My mom was so surprised and she was so nervous, but it ended up good. I'm here now."
After Barber redshirted as a freshman and went 5-13 on the open circuit, he wrestled four matches this season before tearing a muscle in his hip. He will undergo surgery Dec. 23 and said he likely won't compete again this season.
During the recovery process, Barber will continue to work on his other passion. It's a hobby that makes him unique from the other Terps wrestlers.
Barber is an aspiring professional magician. Barber's Twitter bio reads "Sleight of Hand Artist," and his Instagram page he several videos of complex card tricks.
"I'm pretty serious about the magic," Barber said.
Barber's interest in magic stemmed from when he watched with his mom as a magician perform on America's Got Talent in the eighth grade. He then started watching world record-breaking magician David Blaine and decided to try it out.
His mother, Lisa, noticed her son's gravitation toward magic but thought little of it. She thought it was a "little hobby." Around 10th grade, however, she noticed him taking the hobby more seriously.
"I would find him in his room, online, studying videos and trying to perfect different tricks," Lisa Barber said.
Lisa Barber has seen Joe Barber's magic turn from a slight interest to an ambition, and it has only grown in magnitude since Joe Barber arrived at Maryland. She said he developed a passion for it, realizing he wanted to become the best magician he could.
"I started to get interested in magic around eighth grade," Joe Barber said. "I didn't start practicing it until tenth or eleventh grade. I didn't decide that I wanted a career in it until I got here."
BECOMING THE BEST
When Joe Barber sets his mind on something, he strives to reach his maximum potential.
"With Joe, he's not the most talented wrestler," McCoy said. "He's a one-time New York state qualifier, and he wrestled at some high-level events when he was younger, but by no means was the best kid in the room anywhere. The one thing he brings to the table, though, is that he's one of the hardest workers and most dedicated. He believes that he's going to do all these things."
His mom said he studies tricks, reads up on different magicians and techniques and even tries to develop his own routines. He always has a deck of cards on him and designates days for practicing different techniques, such as coin day and card day.
"That amount of effort and belief is something we try and get all of our guys to believe in," McCoy said. "It's really nice when you couple it with his other activities, it's nice that he can have something that he can be really good in with his magic and still work hard at wrestling to get a similar amount of success."
Barber started at this university as a psychology major but switched it to theatre before the fall semester. To his mom, that decision was a sign of determination toward achieving a new goal.
"He called me and said 'Mom, I think I'm going to change my major to a theatre major so that I can pursue my magic,'" Lisa Barber said. "I said 'well, you might as well get the degree and do something that you love.' His love is magic, that's where he's going with it, and I couldn't be prouder."
As a theatre major, Joe Barber takes classes that help him take the next step toward his desired career. He is developing his acting skills and learning how to be comfort on stage. He added he's also doing "fun stuff," such as puppetry and clown classes, to boost with performance skills.
He's fully invested in achieving his goal: performing in Las Vegas.
"Whatever it is, he wants to be the best, and he works at it," Lisa Barber said.
PUTTING ON A SHOW
Joe Barber isn't shy about performing for his teammates.
Redshirt senior Billy Rappo said he frequently shows them his new tricks. If they approve of one, Rappo said he'll show it to others.
"Some of his tricks are pretty impressive, and he's always coming out with new tricks," freshman Alex Vargas said. "It's fun to watch him. He's definitely got a future in it."
Barber has also performed in front of groups of 20 to 40 people, displaying his tricks at birthday parties and social gatherings. He even did some magic at the New York State Fair.
And in November, Barber performed in front of a group larger than any he had before.
Terps Got Talent is a student-athlete talent show, giving Maryland athletes an opportunity to showcase talents such as singing, dancing, performing skits and stand-up comedy.
"It was awesome, it was very special," Barber said. "It was the biggest crowd I've ever done. It was lots of fun. I was nervous at first, very nervous when I got up there, but the crowd got so loud in there, and I was feeding off of it, changing up the act a little bit based on their reactions. It was a lot of fun."
Both McCoy and Rappo approved.
"I'm a little bit biased, but I think that was one of the more impressive things that happened," McCoy said. "Magic is something that always gets people, but I think he did a good job."
"I was really surprised with how well he performed in front of the biggest crowd he's ever had," Rappo added. "He's doing a real good job, still learning, still working on new tricks."
Barber continues to look for more ways to present his unique ability. He said he loves to do his magic for others because he gets a rush from their reactions.
So when the Terps traveled to New York City to wrestle at Madison Square Garden, he took advantage of the opportunity to perform street magic in Times Square.
"I was getting food, We were there already so I said 'Alright, you know what? I'm going to do some magic,'" Barber said. "I just had my teammates record me, and did it."
Rappo wasn't present for the act, but he said he saw the video of it and was impressed. The video is on Barber's Instagram page, and the reaction of the woman who volunteered represented the trick's success. "Oh my," she said. "What just happened?"
"There was something special about doing it in Times Square, New York City," Barber said. "Street magic and street performances are such a big thing there, so it was very special for me to do magic in the Big Apple. It was awesome."
Though the injury ends Barber's chances of wrestling this season, it perhaps opens up more time to work on his magic. He said there is a possibility of another performance at the Terp Awards ceremony in the spring, and he'll keep honing his skills on a daily basis.
"Magic is pretty much an all-day thing," Barber said. "When I'm walking around to classes, I'm always working on some sleight [of hand]. If I'm not practicing magic, I'm either wrestling or doing schoolwork."
Barber doesn't mind the commitment, as he said he has finally "found his calling."
His mother agrees.
"It amazes me the direction his life has taken with the magic being just a hobby, and now it's something where he can't imagine not doing magic," Lisa Barber said. "He knows it's something he was born to do."