DEKALB – Garrett Barnas, role player?
After years in the spotlight, that's the current situation for the former Bureau Valley quarterback, one of the best football players in the history of his area.
Barnas is listed as second-string strong safety for the Northern Illinois University football team, three weeks before the Huskies' Sept. 2 opener at Iowa State.
But after a tumultuous college journey that saw him quarterback Harper College to a junior-college national championship, graduate from Harper a semester early, commit to Syracuse, then have his scholarship offer withdrawn when the Orange changed coaches, Barnas is thankful he's found a role with a successful team.
"I was just hoping to get to a Division I school, and I did it," Barnas, now an NIU senior, said last Thursday at the Huskies' media day in DeKalb. "It was a roller coaster, and nothing came easy, but it all happened for a reason and it all worked out pretty good."
Barnas most likely will make his mark on special teams while working his way into the defensive rotation. He eventually hopes to earn a spot in the starting lineup, where junior Tracy Wilson is listed ahead of him at strong safety.
"I have the potential to play a lot and do a lot of good things for the team," said Barnas, now wearing a full beard after years with a goatee. "But all I'm really thinking about right now is doing what I need to do to help the team."
Barnas excelled on offense at Bureau Valley and Harper, and was the key player on championship teams at both schools. At BV, he accounted for 37 touchdowns (passing and rushing) his junior year as the Storm won the Class 3A state title, and 35 more as a senior, when BV went 12-1. At Harper, he passed for 47 touchdowns and ran for 17 more in two years as starting quarterback.
The Huskies already had a full depth chart at the position last year when Barnas arrived, though, forcing his move to defense.
Barnas did carry the ball one time for three yards last season against Ohio. But with returning starter Chandler Harnish, DeMarcus Grady and three other quarterbacks listed on NIU's roster, Barnas' chances of lining up under center this season are slim.
"If that situation comes up I'd be more than happy to do it," the 6-foot-1, 211-pound Barnas said. "But they haven't talked to me about it, and I played defense all throughout spring ball."
Barnas has shown he can play defense. He showed a nose for the ball as a free safety at Bureau Valley, intercepting eight passes as a junior and 12 as a senior.
NIU defensive end Jake Coffman heard all about Barnas' high-school exploits from his brother-in-law, Nick Schneiderman, an assistant coach at BV when Barnas played there. Coffman, the Huskies' defensive MVP in 2009, hasn't been disappointed so far.
"Not too many people have his combination of size and speed," Coffman said. "For him to be able to switch from quarterback to safety, that shows how good of an athlete he is."
That switch put Barnas behind the rest of the secondary last season. After two years of playing only offense at Harper, Barnas had to learn how to play safety at the Division I level.
"Everybody else already knew everything and I was learning from scratch," Barnas said. "This year I think I'm going to be able to just go out there and play instead of thinking so much about what I'm doing."
Barnas is on track to graduate in May with a degree in general studies. He says he'd like to go into coaching, and he'll have his eye on his younger brothers, Tyler and Logan, who will play at Princeton this fall for their stepfather, Dave Moore.
Barnas admits the Syracuse situation was a crushing blow, but he regrouped the best he could, and doesn't see any reason to feel sorry for himself now.
"Everything's going really good," Barnas said. "I just wanted to play football on a great team, and I have that here. I really feel like we have something special with this group, and it feels great to be a part of it."