Barnes knows how to play it big

Senior star has knack for rallying Oakland Mills when it's needed most

November 30, 2001|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

If Oakland Mills football player Justin Barnes doesn't already have a nickname, it's about time someone gave him one.

Might we suggest "Big Play Barnes"?

Though simple - and bordering on cheesy - the label certainly fits the 6-foot-3, 215-pound senior running back and linebacker. When the No. 15 Scorpions (8-4) take the field tomorrow against Allegany (10-2) in the Class 1A state title game at Byrd Stadium, there is little doubt who everyone will be watching, no matter where he is on the field.

"Usually your star linebacker is your leading tackler, but not somebody that scores touchdowns on defense," Oakland Mills coach Ken Hovet said. "But it seems like every time we need to turn a game around or put someone away, he does something that makes you say `Wow.' "

In Oakland Mills' semifinal win last week over Boonsboro, the Scorpions trailed 14-0 after a rocky first quarter until Barnes took it upon himself to make the amazing look rather routine. In the second quarter, he intercepted a pass - with one hand - and returned it inside the Boonsboro 10-yard line to set up a score. He opened the second half by forcing a fumble on Boonsboro's first possession, setting up his own 43-yard touchdown run.

Minutes later, he recovered a fumble, which led to a touchdown by senior Matt Speake, then capped off the win with another interception, his eighth of the year, which he promptly ran back 50 yards for a touchdown to cap a string of 48 unanswered points in the Scorpions' 48-14 win.

"I love doing things no one thinks you can do," said Barnes, who has four defensive touchdowns on the year to go with 21 on offense. "When the other team has you down, that's when you need to put in the extra effort. When you get that effort, things happen for you. I also love proving people wrong when they think they've got you on the ropes."

That's been the resonating theme in the Scorpions' locker room over the past eight weeks: It's time to prove people wrong. After a handful of injuries contributed to a frustrating 0-3 start, most figured Oakland Mills' season was a lost cause. But by going 7-1 since, the Scorpions are a major threat to win their second state title in school history.

"We have a lot more leadership on this team now than at the start of the season," Barnes said. "When things go bad now, we're the last team that rolls over and gives up."

Though his height makes him unusually tall for a star running back, Hovet says Barnes, who is being recruited as a linebacker by several Atlantic-10 schools and 1-AA schools, rarely gets hit anywhere besides his shoulders because his balance and hips are so good. And down the stretch when every game could have decided the Scorpions' playoff hopes, Barnes has been dominant.

Against Class 3A Long Reach, Barnes ran for 247 yards and two touchdowns in a 26-0 rout. Needing a win to qualify for the playoffs in the final regular-season game, Barnes rushed for 159 yards and returned an interception for a touchdown in a 32-8 win over Centennial.

Yet, despite his heroics, Barnes is quick to deflect nearly all of the credit elsewhere. Ask him about his 1,500 yards rushing, he mentions his offensive line. Ask him about his interceptions, he'll say the pass rush and his coaches put him in position to make a big play.

In fact, if looking for nicknames, "Humble Hercules" might be much more fitting.

"He's been our star player all year, but he doesn't have a star personality at all," Hovet said. "He's such a quiet, polite kid. In the state semifinal, he only ran the ball nine times. A star might pout about that, but Justin just wants whatever is best for us."

Said Barnes: "We were motivated enough to turn things around, now we want to make sure we finish it off right."

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