The 90 Illini #76: Bryce Barnes
I wonder if Bryce Barnes could have ever imagined being in that photo. You're a football player at a small high school, you decide to walk on at a Big Ten program instead of taking a scholarship to some Division II school, and in your very first autumn you find yourself on the field goal unit as your team beats the #6 team in the country? It's hard for me to imagine a more "hard work pays off" moment than that.
That's not to say that he's reached his goal or anything. His Twitter profile now says "DT @ The University Of Illinois", and it now says "DL" next to his name on the roster, not "TE", so he's been moved from offense to defense in the offseason. Which is walkon for "hey, we can really use this kid".
76. Bryce Barnes
Uniform number: 48
Year in school: True Sophomore (4 years to play 3)
Height: 6'-2" -- Weight: 245 lbs.
Hometown: Gibson City, Illinois
High School: Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley HS
Five best offers: N/A - walkon
Tom Cruise rating: none - walkon
2019 statistics: Played in all 13 games as a freshman walkon. Did not record any statistics as a tight end.
GCMS won back-to-back 2A state titles in 2017 and 2018. And Illinois added two PWO's from those teams - Mitchell McNutt in 2018 and Bryce Barnes in 2019. McNutt left the program his first summer, Barnes arrived last summer and found himself on the field for the first game. He ended up playing in all 13 games on special teams.
And we shouldn't just glaze over "he played in all 13 games" here. Five freshmen played in five or more games, and they weren't the ones you were expecting. Isaiah Williams? Redshirted. Seth Coleman? Redshirted. Kyron Cumby? Redshirted. Shammond Cooper? Redshirted. Keith Randolph? Redshirted. Moses Okpala? Redshirted. Bryce Barnes? Played in all 13 games. If Vegas had odds on this sort of thing, "the five freshmen who won't redshirt will be Bryce Barnes, Devon Witherspoon, Tarique Barnes, Casey Washington, and Dalevon Campbell" would have gone off at 10,000 to 1.
I'm wondering if we won't see a redshirt for Barnes. Mostly because of the position transition. If he's flipping from TE to DT, he's likely about to add 30 lbs. to his frame. That doesn't just happen overnight. It took me months of ordering Grog's at 11:30 pm just to gain 20 lbs, so 30 will probably take a long time. Especially since he's adding football weight.
So I could see a scenario where he makes the position switch and then spends a full year learning the position, eating, and working out (while redshirting). Tight ends can be used on kickoff coverage - defensive tackles really can't. So he's probably not going to get any special teams snaps this year (although I could see him as one of the three guys in the backfield protecting Blake Hayes on punts). If he doesn't get those special teams snaps, maybe a redshirt and then three years as a defensive tackle?
Or, who knows, maybe he makes the DT rotation this fall and suddenly finds himself in the conversation for a scholarship. When you play all 13 games as a true freshman walkon, pretty much every door is open to you. It will be interesting to see which one he walks through.