NFL legacy under the radar

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It isn't every day that you can find a 6-foot-3, 225-pound linebacker with an NFL legacy that is flying under the radar, but that description fits Zach Barnes to a T.

Barnes, a rising senior athlete out of Grayson (Ga.) High School, just started playing football during his sophomore year of high school.

"I have only played football for two years now," Barnes told InsideTennessee. "I just didn't have a drive to play it when I was younger.

"My dad played in the NFL, but he never wanted to push me into something I didn't want to do. Then I decided I wanted to play and I made a commitment to push myself and grind to be a good player."

Barnes father, also Zach Barnes, was drafted in the ninth round (No. 230 overall) of the 1984 NFL draft by the San Diego Chargers out of Alabama State as a defensive tackle and also went on to play with the Atlanta Falcons.

Since football is so new to Barnes, he hadn't really found his position yet, that was until Tennessee defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri got his hands on him.

"I had been at the offensive/defensive line camp and coach (Sal) Sunseri had seen me there and saw what I could do," he said. "Then he decided that it would be good for me to get out in space and see how I reacted.

"It went really good. It was my first time really playing linebacker. I was definitely learning everything pretty well. The coaches helped me learn a lot and I think it went really well."

Barnes, who also had offers from Indiana and Southern Miss, feels he could be a cornerstone in the rebuilding process for the Volunteers.

"Tennessee has a great football program and they are kind of starting new with the defensive coordinator," Barnes said. "The whole coaching staff seemed really good and knowledgeable.

"They are really trying to rebuild and I felt like I would be a good building block for them. It just seemed like a good fit for me."

Both Zach Jr. and Sr. visited Tennessee this week, but the whole family will be back soon enough to get a look at Rocky Top, until then Zach Jr. will be hard at work.

"I am definitely going to try to get back to Tennessee so my mom and my little brother can see the campus as well," he said. "During the rest of the summer I am just going to work out and try and get stronger."

Barnes plays his high school ball with five-star defensive end Robert Nkemdiche.

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Chris Price is a staff writer for He was previously an intern for the site for two years before graduating from the University of Tennessee. He joined the InsideTennessee team in 2009.

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