Sep 30, 2016 03:15PM
● By Ashley Pape
Football isn’t just a game for Southlake Carroll safety Robert Barnes. It’s a way of life.
The sport runs in his veins—literally. His father, Reggie, was a star linebacker at the University of Oklahoma and went on to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys in the NFL.
Reggie admits he never pushed football on his son, yet with all of the family’s collegiate pride—Sooner or later it was bound to happen. Young Robert made his own choice to suit up in full pads when he was in elementary school.
“I told my wife I would never push the game on him,” Reggie says. “I wanted to wait for him to come to me. And he did come to me when he was in third grade. He wanted to play football, so I signed him up for a team.”
Barnes played multiple positions early in his career, lining up at running back, wide receiver, linebacker and defensive end. In his first year, he scored at least two touchdowns in every game, but the team finished just 1-9.
So the following year Reggie decided to take on the role of a youth football coach and imparted some of his wisdom on not only Barnes but also the local kids. The team went on to have three straight undefeated seasons.
During that span, Barnes said he learned a lot from his father, who served not only as a parent and coach but a role model.
“I’ve looked up to my dad my whole life,” Barnes says. “He obviously played at OU and at the next level. I always try to find any film on him. He’s been there. He knows what it takes to get to where I want to get. He’s a big inspiration for me.”
Reggie cherishes the time he spent with Barnes as a child and always did his best to help Barnes grow as a player.
“I enjoyed coaching him,” Reggie says. “I let him play multiple positions but because he was my son, I kind of held the reins back. I let him touch the ball four times, and he would still score twice. I didn’t want him to take too many hits.”
Barnes, however, never shied away from contact. In fact, he embraced it.
As a freshman at Southlake Carroll, Barnes actually played wide receiver. But as Reggie pointed out, Barnes’ love of contact and his overall physical development gave him the necessary skillset to be a dominant defender.
His mother, Eulana, also played a role in Barnes’ rise to becoming one of the nation’s premier defensive backs. A personal trainer and nutritionist, Eulana has always kept Barnes on a strict diet. “She makes sure he eats healthy,” Reggie says. “She has really helped him develop physically. She cooks dinner and doesn’t let him eat McDonald’s or put anything bad in his body. She did those things early on, and now he really takes care of his body.”
Barnes was never the biggest kid on his youth or middle school teams, but right after arriving at Southlake Carroll, he underwent a growth spurt. Now, Barnes stands at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds.
His rare blend of size, speed and high football IQ have helped Barnes become one of the most sought-after recruits in the country.
A U.S. Army All-American, Barnes followed in his father’s footsteps and committed to Oklahoma last September over offers from Alabama, Baylor, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Texas, USC and a number of other major programs.
Reggie admitted that he is thrilled that Barnes will be playing at his alma mater, but just like with football in general, he never pushed OU.
“I did drop some subliminal hints,” Reggie says with a laugh. “He’s had an Oklahoma helmet above his bed since he was three years old. Our team was the Junior Sooners. But I told him that this was his journey.
“I told him, he needed to realize the coaches who recruit you may not always be there and he needed to like what part of the country he’s in. You might find your future wife there. The football part will take care of itself.”
Barnes, who is completely solid to the Sooners, reiterated that the decision to pull the trigger and give Oklahoma a verbal pledge was all his.
“Oklahoma was all my choice,” Barnes says. “But just growing up around Norman and Coach (Bob) Stoops and seeing how much of a family it is played a big role. Seeing that bond they all have really made me want to commit early and be part of the program.”
But before Barnes starts his new journey in Norman, he has some unfinished business to take care of at the high school level.
Barnes recorded 105 tackles and one interception last season and is now the unquestioned leader of a stout, experienced Southlake Carroll defense that returns nine starters.
“Leadership is not inherited, it’s earned,” says head coach Hal Wasson. “Robert is definitely a leader on this team. He’s a fun-loving guy. He likes to play with energy and all that good stuff. But leaders go out and make plays. And that’s what Robert does.
“He earns the respect from his teammates through his work ethic and preparation for the games. Then he goes out there, and he’s a baller. He’s a guy that can do a lot of great things for us.”
Last year, Barnes was part of a dynamic secondary duo along with cornerback and Stanford signee Obi Eboh but now, the weight is solely on his shoulders to make sure the group and defensive unit as a whole is on point.
Barnes certainly embraced that leadership role this offseason and is ready to help the team reach new heights after being bounced in the second round of the state playoffs in 2015.
“I’m super excited,” Barnes says. “It’s something that I’ve been waiting for since I was a freshman at Carroll. To be here is exciting. I’m definitely a vocal leader, and I back it up with how I play. I’m the loudest dude on the field. We’ll definitely have a mouth on defense.”
Southlake Carroll has traditionally been known as an offensive juggernaut but with plenty of new faces on that side of the ball, it will be up to Barnes and the defense to carry the team early on.
Cornerback Zion Sales says the unit is up to the challenge thanks to Barnes’ leadership. He adds that Barnes is an extremely special athlete and a player the Dragons can count on to be the difference maker when the lights come on every Friday night.
“I’ve known Robert since the fifth grade because we played on the same youth football team,” Sales says. “He’s always brought a lot of energy. He’s always been a great leader. He’s always the guy you can count on to make plays.”
Wasson adds: “He brings a lot of energy. He’s a very athletic guy. He needs to be a playmaker back there at safety. I anticipate Robert having a fabulous year and being that playmaker we need. He’s rangy. He’s a good cover and tackle guy.”
Barnes has lofty goals set for himself and the team this season. But ultimately, he just wants to play the game he loves and establish his own legacy.
“Of course, it would be awesome to go out with a state championship,” Barnes says. “But for me, I just want to be that leader on the field. When I leave here, I want people to say that I played my heart out every game and left everything on the field.”