Grambling brings out best in Barnes

September 17, 1994|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun Staff Writer

He is entering the twilight of a decent football career, and Morgan State senior wide receiver Bernard Barnes says that the losing streaks have worn on him.

But the thought of another game day -- especially a date with Grambling State and its legendary coach, Eddie Robinson -- wipes the frown off Barnes' face.

"I thought about playing Grambling all summer. Playing Grambling is one of my greatest dreams," said Barnes, still smarting from last week's season-opening, 41-0 loss to Bethune-Cookman.

"I'm tired of losing. I've been here for three years, and we haven't done too well," he said. "But I'll never lose faith in my team. I still feel like we have a chance to turn this program all the way around. I still feel positive about the season."

With 10 games left in his college career, Barnes is running out of time to erase the blues that have accompanied three losing seasons, during which the Bears have managed six victories.

Then again, Barnes is counting his blessings. He remembers when he helped turn around a moribund program at Joppatowne High School, when he flashed enough talent as a running back to attract the attention of Division I recruiters.

Although those days also dealt Barnes a stroke of bad luck -- a broken foot ended his senior year prematurely, depriving him of a chance to play in his first state playoff game and nearly quashing his chance at a college scholarship -- Barnes' fortunes took a favorable turn after Morgan State hired Ricky Diggs.

Diggs took over the program in the spring of 1991, after the recruiting season had passed. Diggs still had a few scholarships left to give. And when a Morgan State football alumnus named Bernard Barnes Sr. (Bernard's father) approached Diggs with some videotape of his son in action at Joppatowne, Diggs took a look.

"I liked what I saw. I saw a good athlete who knew what to do once he got the ball in his hands," Diggs said.

Just like that, Barnes went from a high school senior with an uncertain future to a full football scholarship recipient. Today, he two semesters away from earning a degree in telecommunications.

He also remains a good athlete who knows what to do once he gets the ball in his hands. After spending his freshman season as a part-time player, Barnes moved into the Bears' starting lineup as a sophomore. For the next two seasons, while former standouts Glenny Moore and Jesse Humphrey drew most of the attention of Bears quarterbacks, Barnes became a quiet, steady contributor to Morgan State's run-and-shoot offense.

As a sophomore, he caught 19 passes for 206 yards and four touchdowns. Last year, Barnes chipped in 24 receptions for 329 yards (a 13.7-yard average) and a touchdown. Now, he is the veteran of a talented receiving corps that includes Dante Carter, Otis Covington and Chris Ursini.

"He has got the best hands on the team, but the biggest difference in Bernard this year in attitude," Diggs said. "He used to be the jokester on the team. He used to go into games with a laissez faire attitude. That's not the case anymore. Nobody practices harder on this team than Bernard. I think he is going to win a couple of games for us."

Barnes looks at tonight's game against Grambling as a chance to redeem himself after an inauspicious debut against Bethune-Cookman, and to begin the drive to a fine senior season. Barnes caught only one pass for nine yards last week. He also dropped a potential touchdown pass.

"I made a bunch of mental mistakes last week, like cutting off my routes early. We've got to eliminate mental mistakes if we want to beat Grambling," Barnes said.

"We can't think like losers. At times, it's hard, because you look at our record and you've got to keep answering questions on campus about it. We have to keep thinking positive."

At times, it's been hard for Bernard's father to watch his son play in a program that has undergone deep decline since the days the senior Barnes played at Morgan State under the late Earl Banks. Barnes Sr. was a fine wide receiver who played for the Bears in the late 1960s, before getting a brief tryout with the Oakland Raiders. He played on the last Morgan State team to beat Grambling in 1968.

"I feel for my son. I keep telling him to go out, concentrate on running good routes, keeping those hands soft and doing the best he can," said Barnes Sr., who will watch him tonight. "Don't let the fact the program isn't as successful as it should be stand in his way.

"The losing hasn't kept B. J. from getting something out of Morgan . . . He will graduate on time. He's a good young man."

* NOTE: Tickets for the game are available at Memorial Stadium, Ticketmaster outlets or charge by phone at (410) 481-SEAT.

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