Barnes' BYU visit exceeds expectations

Georgia defensive end Zach Barnes boarded a plane and flew into Provo, Utah last Thursday. It was his first time to the Beehive State and he wanted to make sure he got the most out of his trip. By the time he left, Barnes had experienced something unique that just might be a good fit for him.

Zach Barnes came to Provo a day early so as not to make sure he would be able to make the most of his BYU experience.

"Just flying into Utah, it was really nice and there was snow on the ground, a lot more than what I'm used to here in Georgia," Barnes said. "I'm used to about two inches of snow every couple of years, so it was kind of crazy to see all that snow."

Barnes was picked up at the airport by defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi.

"He's such a great guy and easy to be around," said Barnes. "I could tell that every time he talked about football he would get really intense. I kind of like that intensity. I can tell that when it's time to go to work on the field, that side of him comes out. But off the field he's a laidback guy and someone you can go and talk to. I would call him a player's coach, you know what I mean?"

Coach Kaufusi prides himself on being an example and a role model to young men.

"That mentor type coach is what I got from him," Barnes said. "When it's time to go to work it's all about developing the player, but when it's time to learn and grow off the field he's that guy to help you with that. That's the sense I got from him."

The quality of people that reside in and around "Happy Valley" makes for a unique experience. Barnes was struck by how nice everyone was.

"Going up there the first thing I noticed is they're just really good people who care about you and are just overly nice," Barnes said. "Just from the get go they were really good people and you can get that sense of how they care for one another up there. They really took care of us, always asking us, ‘How are you doing' and asking us if there was anything we wanted to do to just try and give us everything we needed to learn about BYU and Utah. There is something different over there. I like it.

"You know, that was one of the things that I'm looking at for the next level. I would say that my visit to BYU satisfied that aspect of what I was looking for. The people around there will affect the way you play football and the way you learn. Just being happy out there, you know what I mean, is something that I want in my college experience."

Needless to say, the warm and inviting people of Utah and BYU caught him off guard.

"Yeah, it really did take me by surprise just how it is over there," said Barnes with a laugh. "I mean, I'm not trying to say Atlanta is mean or anything, but it was just a lot different being over there. Like I said, there is something different over there."

Atlanta is a long way from Provo. However, Barnes felt very comfortable during his visit.

"Fitting in there at BYU, I would think it would be easy for me," Barnes said. "They type of people that are there are the kind of people that I try to be. I'm always trying to be that happy and good person, not just when I'm with everybody or on camera, but just try and be that way all the time."

Although Barnes was on an official visit, he had some homework that was given to him by a teacher back at Grayson High School that he needed to finish up. So, he went to BYU's academic center to try and finish it up.

"I got a chance to work with one of the main guys at the academic center. He just helped me out with my homework and my studies and it was just smooth and easy. They made things very comprehensible for me and that allowed me to actually get a taste of what it would be like to actually go to school there. I have to say that was a real learning experience for me."

Then Barnes went and visited a professor within the field of his major.

"We actually went over to the engineering department and I got a chance to talk to one of the professors over there," Barnes said. "That's going to be my major and I got a chance to see the building and everything and that was impressive. I drilled the professor with question after question and he came right back with great answers. That was what I was looking for."

Of course, Barnes wanted to check out more than academics.

"I came in on Thursday evening, so Friday morning I got up early and got a chance to see the boys working out in the weight room facilities," Barnes said. "I got a chance to see it first hand and kind of visualized myself working out there."

After watching the Cougars work out, Barnes then went and toured the indoor practice facility.

"Yeah, that thing is huge!" Barnes said. "It's a really nice building to help the players better develop as football players."

BYU met every expectation that Barnes was looking for at the college level.

"Well, making a comparison on how things stack up at BYU with football, people and academics and things, I would say that it stacks up really well and met my expectations," Barnes said. "BYU has won a national championship before, and I spoke to Coach Poppinga and he's put a few guys into the NFL before. Of course we all know about Kyle Van Noy and he's a main guy over there, and he'll be heading to the NFL after this next season."

While getting to know some of the players on the team, Barnes was able to ask a few of them questions about the football program and the head coach who oversees it.

"Yeah, I asked a whole bunch of the players on the football team about what it was like, and they all said that Coach Mendenhall is a madman," Barnes said with a chuckle in his voice. "But, you know, that's alright … that's alright! They said that they loved it over there and there are a lot of things to do and good people to do it with, and that's what I'm looking for. There weren't any negative things to say and it was just all positive about the university."

On Saturday, Barnes was called into the office of that defensive madman, Coach Mendenhall. He sat down across from BYU's head coach and the two began a friendly discourse in an effort to better know one another.

"We just sat down and we talked for a while too. I don't know if we went over our time limit or not, but we talked about things like religion, academics, and he asked what I thought about all this stuff," said Barnes. "We were able to really feel each other out. That was a good experience to be able to gauge where a head coach thinks and feels and wants from a recruit … It was just a great experience for me to be able to meet and talk to him.

"He is just a great man and caring, you know. He truly is out to not just make young men great football players, but truly great young men that when they leave BYU they're taking that part with them wherever they go. I could see that when I was talking to him and that's very important to me. I feel that you can really get the most out of that scholarship offer and Coach Mendenhall really helped me to understand that."

Barnes then received a scholarship offer from Mendenhall.

"Coach Mendenhall laid out what they expected from me and what BYU wants to be. After that he handed me a piece of paper and had me read it. I just thought, ‘Wow!' you know? I really felt blessed and thought it was a great opportunity."

The offer sort of took him by surprise.

"I had been running around the whole day, so, yeah, it caught me off guard a little bit," Barnes said. "But, yeah, I was excited. I was really excited and felt really blessed and honored that he felt I was the type of person found worthy to be a part of his program."

Every great football player can go play football at any university in the country, but not every great football player is worthy to receive a BYU scholarship. It takes more than just great football and high academics to enter through the gates of BYU.

"Yeah, it's a big time honor," Barnes said. "I mean, wow, it's a lot to think about knowing that guys like Reggie Bush probably couldn't have come here, but I could. Like I said, it's a big honor and think it's awesome because I'm going to be around those kind of athletes who are just like me my whole career. You know what I mean? They'll just be boys just like me and just like brothers."

In reflecting over his official BYU visit, Barnes rated the experience very high on a scale up to 10.

"I would give it about a nine!" said Barnes. "Yeah, I would say a nine because it was a good experience."

And with that being said, BYU fans will know next week if he'll become a Cougar or not.

"I think I'll go ahead and make it next Wednesday," Barnes said. "That's when I'll probably make my final decision."

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