Auburn, Ala.--It has been a long year for Auburn freshman linebacker Da'Shaun Barnes, but on Sunday he finally gets to begin to live out his dream of playing major college football when he takes part in Auburn's first spring practice.
A standout at Lincoln High in Tallahassee, Fla., Barnes was one of the top defensive prospects in the South for 2007 and signed with the Tennessee Volunteers. Preparing to head to Knoxville and thinking he was cleared to enroll in school, Barnes got word from the Vols that he wouldn't be eligible to enroll in the school after all.
Instead of getting ready to play as a true freshman, Barnes instead began to look for a future home. That search eventually led him to Auburn, a school he looked at before choosing Tennessee originally.
"It was really frustrating because I could have found out that information a little quicker and I could have gotten on it," Barnes says. "At the same time, it worked out better for me. I'm glad to be here and this is where I want to be right now.
"I wasn't pretty sure at the time because there were other schools calling me and stuff," Barnes says about choosing Auburn. "Coach Steve Ensminger called me and he was on my bandwagon for a long time. I like that--a coach that really respected me and respected how the situation was. That made it easy for me knowing that I had two teammates that I used to play with at Lincoln, a school at Auburn that had two teammates and a good coach.
Joining fellow Lincoln High grads Craig Stevens and Michael Slade on Auburn's roster, Barnes says it's exciting and also helpful that he already had friends in Auburn when he arrived in January to begin his career as a Tiger.
"It was really big because I already had some friends up here to keep me motivated, keep me doing well in school and keep me well on the practice field and games or whatever," Barnes says. "When we were at Lincoln, they taught me a lot--how to be a team player, a good teammate and a good friend. With those two players here by my side, that's why I chose Auburn."
Checking in at 6-2, 225, Barnes has already gained enough size to give the Tigers immediate help at the linebacker position after being recruited as a safety last year, but first he's got to get back into football shape. Barnes says while he's coming along, he knows he's got a lot of work ahead of him to get back to his old self on the field.
"That's really exciting because at Lincoln I was strong safety and it was just like a linebacker," Barnes says. "It's going to be the same deal and I like how that's going to play out. I was able to work out and stay in shape a little bit, but you can never be in good football shape without playing football. That's how I was when I first came up here--a little winded. I didn't make a couple of times, but after a couple of days I got used to running and everything like that. You start getting your groove back."
Working at the strongside linebacker position behind Stevens, Bo Harris and Courtney Harden, Barnes is getting a quick tutorial from his old teammate as well as linebacker Coach James Willis. Barnes says both have been helpful to him as he gets ready to make his mark on the Auburn depth chart.
"He already teaches me little things like staying low," Barnes says of Stevens. "Once you've been out of football so long, it's hard to stay low now--staying low, driving your feet, all of the stuff like that, he's going to be very helpful.
"He's a great coach," he adds of Willis. "He teaches everything you need to know and how he wants it to be done. He's really good because if you really look at it, he's going to help you in the long run instead of just looking at it now, but it's going to help you in the future. if you make it to the pros or not he's going to always be there for you."
Auburn must have two mandatory days without pads before the real physical work begins in spring practice. Those will be the two toughest days says Barnes because he's now so close to getting back into the action that he can already taste it.
"I'm very excited," Barnes says. "I haven't put on pads in like a year, so I'm ready to go out there and show what I can do and prove myself to everybody that just because you stay out a year doesn't mean you lost your touch."