Jan. 30, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
While wrapping up his degree at Georgia Tech, big T.J. Barnes remains a curiosity on multiple levels, including the NFL, where he is most intriguing for sake of being so big.
The former Yellow Jackets defensive tackle intrigues in other ways, too, and that’s why he’ll take a break from studies on the Flats and travel home to Enterprise, Ala., one week from today to commune with smaller people who fascinate him.
His size belies a gentle nature that is overtly obvious off the football field.
“I’m going to speak with students and football players,” Barnes said Thursday. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Barnes’ Tech bio says that he once registered eight sacks in a high school game, and looking at him up close makes something like that easier to believe.
He goes 6-feet-6 or so, and finished last season on the New York Jets’ practice at about 369 pounds. There is both good and bad at work here in a young man who throws a massive shadow.
His frame is stop shelf, if a tad tall, but Barnes has too much stuff tacked on.
“My main goal is my weight. I know I’m a good player, and I have the tools to be one of the best. I can’t be on that elite level if I’m too heavy,” he said. “I’m just trying to stay trim and lose fat, get down to 345 and continue to get lower.”
Conference coaches tabbed Barnes All-ACC honorable mention after his senior season as a nose tackle at Tech. He led the Jackets’ down linemen with 28 tackles in 2012 while adding five for lost yardage.
He went undrafted, however, with a rap against him for fast fatigue.
The Jaguars signed him in the spring, and he stuck around with Jacksonville until August 30. About six weeks after being released by the Jags, Barnes signed with the Jets’ practice squad and finished the season there. He signed another non-guaranteed contract and is expected to re-join the team in late spring.
Before heading south for the rest of winter and first half of spring, Barnes sat a spell with Jets head coach Rex Ryan and defensive line coach Karl Dunbar.
They told him straight up that to crack an NFL roster, he has to lighten up. New York coaches and team officials have given Barnes a talking-to more than once.
“We had a big discussion about what my goals were and what I need to do. We had a sit down,” he recalled. “Karl Dunbar is kind of the best thing that ever happened to me. He just told me what I needed to do to be successful in this league. All those guys had a big influence.
“Everybody is telling me, `It’s all in your hands if you want to be here.’ “
Sometimes, that is not as easily done as said.
Barnes is enrolled in the final six hours for his business management degree, and while that two-class schedule is not heavy it did not jive right away with his physical work. Many times, he’s only on campus two days a week.
“Once I got acclimated with school, I started to get back to working out the way I need to work out,” he said. “It makes things a lot easier [being just a student rather than a student-athlete], especially since I took a year off from school. I don’t feel as stressed. I have more time to study.
“Sometimes, when I’m on campus I work out here (in the Tech weight room). I see some of [his former teammates] . . . in some ways it feels like I never left.”
Splitting workouts between the Tech football facility and a private trainer close to his home near Lithonia, big Barnes is trying to tend to the little things that may help make his first career in football before he puts that Tech degree to work for the long haul.
“Everybody in the NFL is good,” he said. “I have had to look deep down in myself and see if I really belong in the league . . . my coaches and teammates made me realize I belong.”
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