Dylan Barker announced Wednesday that he was retiring from professional football.
The 25-year-old had played four seasons in the Canadian Football League with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
The decision to retire so young could be seen as a difficult one, but in Barker’s mind it really wasn’t a decision at all.
A chronic injury in Barker’s lower back was discovered. When it became clear it wasn’t going to get any better on its own, he said it wasn’t a hard choice to walk away from the game he loves.
“It came down to having surgery or retiring. Surgery was sort of a last resort. They were really advising against it because it could have gotten even worse,” said Barker.
The disc between his L4 and L5 vertebrae in his lower back had been worn down due to the strains of playing football and his other athletic pursuits over the years. His body had adapted to the injury as it got worse over the years until it finally got so bad that his body could no longer deal with the strain of playing football.
The injury first became apparent in a pre-season of last season. After the pre-season game against Toronto, Barker was in pain and could barely get out bed the next morning.
“It didn’t affect me and then I started to feel it. I don’t know if it was one last hit that sent it over or what,” said Barker who said he had never felt any previous back pains.
“It’s fine for daily life, it doesn’t bother me, but it just won’t hold up for things like football.”
He said being drafted first overall in the CFL draft was one of his favourite memories, but playing in three straight Vanier Cups with the University of Saskatchewan was up there as well — especially the one they played at home at Griffiths Stadium in Saskatoon.
Barker tied a CFL record with 37 special teams tackles in 2009. As he made a nuisance of himself on special teams, he began to see more time at safety and started 13 of the TiCats 17 games at that position the next season. He
registered 91 tackles and four interceptions while suiting up in just 35 games.
Barker’s career has come full circle. He is back at the U of S taking classes and studying hard to prepare for the entrance exam for dentistry school. His father Mike is a dentist and Dylan was on the wait list for the dentistry school when the CFL came calling after he completed his undergraduate Chemistry degree. He put his dentistry career on hold, but is ready to start a new chapter.
“I’m comfortable back here,” Barker said from Saskatoon. “I’m back hitting the books. It’s different just studying and going to class and not having practice. You feel little like you lived this life and moved on, but it’s nice to be back. I’m looking forward to this.”