AMES, Iowa – Unlike a majority of young boys who dream about becoming a professional athlete, former Muscatine High School and Iowa State University football player Ben Barkema never really had those aspirations.
That is, until now.
One day after not hearing his name called during the National Football League Draft, the senior tight end signed a free agent contract with the Cleveland Browns.
“To be honest, I never really thought about it (a professional football career) until before my senior season,” said the 23-year-old Barkema.
“The first time I really thought there might be a possibility was when the (NFL) scouts came in (to Ames) for Pro Day in 2007 and the Lions wanted to see tapes of me.”
After a stellar high school career in which he was an all-stater in two sports (football and basketball), Barkema elected to accept a football scholarship from Iowa State, turning down an offer to join his brother, C.J., who was playing football at the University of Iowa.
Following a redshirt year in 2003, Barkema was a part-time player in 2004. He caught five passes, good for 53 yards and a touchdown.
He moved into a starting role as a sophomore, catching 18 passes for 244 yards and a pair of touchdowns. That season, Barkema also made three catches for 24 yards and latched on to a PAT pass against TCU in the Houston Bowl.
Barkema was limited to six games because of injuries in 2006, but he still managed to snare 11 passes for 106 yards and a touchdown.
That brought an end to the Dan McCarney era at Iowa State and his only season under Gene Chizik was in 2007. The 6-foot-3, 252-pound Barkema again put together a solid season with 18 catches for 163 yards, but no touchdown receptions.
For his career, Barkema had 52 catches for 566 yards and four touchdowns.
Barkema said that Cleveland was the team that showed the most interest in him.
“They were looking for my type of player,” he said, “which is a move-around guy who may line up on the line or in the backfield like a fullback.
“There are no long routes, but they said they were impressed with my catching ability on this year’s Pro Day (in Ames).”
The Browns currently have four tight ends on their roster and drafted Missouri tight end Martin Rucker in the fourth round on Sunday.
Kellen Winslow, a four-year veteran, is among the top receiving tight ends in the NFL with more than 170 receptions the past two seasons.
“Rucker is more a receiving type,” said Barkema. “Even when they’re in goal line (situations), Missouri would spread out four receivers. He’s of no concern to me.”
Barkema, who was named to the Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll each of the last two years, already has graduated. He has stayed in Ames working out and volunteering with the Cyclones.
“I’m absolutely thrilled,” Barkema said. “I got my foot in the door, and that’s all I can ask for.
“I eventually want to be a college football coach, so I’ve been in the process of looking for a job as a graduate assistant somewhere.”
That will temporarily be put on hold as he goes through the process of the Browns free agent camp this weekend.
“I’ll be going to Cleveland on Thursday,” Barkema said. “I think they’ll have two practices Friday and Saturday and another on Sunday.”
Barkema is the son of Jim and Wanda Barkema of Muscatine. In addition to his brother, C.J., Ben has a sister, Amanda, who is a senior tennis player at Wartburg College.
“Ben has worked hard for this,” said his father, Jim. “Maybe something will come of it, maybe not, but he’s got a lot to fall back on.”
Reporter contact information:
Roger Bates: 563-262-0528