Back from Duty, Barnes Looks North

Tyree Barnes didn't have many opportunities to show off his talents as a receiver before graduating from the Naval Academy in 2009, but before he embarked on two years of active-duty Navy service, he made enough of an impression with his graceful hands and blazing speed to warrant the attention of pro scouts. Now returned from sea, Barnes is looking to catch on in an unlikely place.

The Canadian Football League seems like an unlikely destination for a former triple option receiver, but if Naval Academy graduate Tyree Barnes gets his wish, he'll soon be able to take his talents north of the border to play for the Toronto Argonauts. Barnes, who played for Navy from 2004-2008 and caught a touchdown pass in each of his four seasons, recently signed a free agent contract with the CFL team, and hopes to be able to compete in their training camp this May. For Barnes, who just completed a two-year stint of Naval service that included a tour of duty off the Horn of Africa aboard the USS Gonzalez (DDG-66), it's the chance to continue a pro career which left off abruptly in 2011, when the 6-foot receiver was cut during the New England Patriots training camp. I caught up with Barnes recently, and got the lowdown on his current status with the Navy, as well as the opportunity he is calling "a dream."

How does it feel to be signed by a CFL team?

TB: It feels good. Everyone has that dream when you're small that you just want to be able to follow and (many people) never have that opportunity. I'm just blessed to be able to have that opportunity to be able to go play football again.

What about from the Navy's side of things. Have you been cleared by the Navy to pursue a pro career this spring?

TB: Not yet, not 100%. I don't know for a fact if I'll be able to just pack up once it's time to head to training camp. They're still working through a few things now, but hopefully I'll know.

Have you talked with any of your potential future teammates with the Argonauts?

TB: I haven't talked to any of my future teammates but I have done a little bit of research – you know, coming from the Academy you like to study up and read on things. It was something that I didn't have a lot of knowledge about but I realize the similarities and differences now, and at the end of the day it's football and competition to me, and I'm looking forward to it.

OK, I can see the differences. The last time I saw you on the field you were doing a lot of run blocking in a triple option offense. But similarities?

TB: (Laughs) Well, I can't compare it to Navy football because of course it's completely different, but you've got the CFL which is three downs – probably the biggest difference – but you know the ball is going to be in the air. To me, the similarity is that they're both going to pass the ball, and in the NFL they're kind of leaning towards throwing the ball around a little more. That's something I'm looking forward to, and something I wasn't able to do as much of at the Naval Academy. Whenever I'm on a football field, whether it's 100 yards long or 110 yards long, or whether the field goal post is in the front of the endzone or the back of the endzone, it's still football to me.

You mentioned getting the chance to play in a more pass-oriented environment. How excited are you for that possibility given that you weren't always able to display your ability as a pass-catcher at Navy?

TB: I'm definitely excited for that possibility. I'm excited for any possibility to be able to play after coming through this school. I went (to Navy) not with the mind frame that I'm going to go to the Academy to be able to go play football, so just having that opportunity and having that dream maybe be a reality is good for me, and I'd like to take that challenge if I'm allowed to.

Excluding the Naval aspect of this all, tell me about your mindset as an American football player. Is the goal always to get back to the NFL, and do you look at playing in the CFL as a way to maybe catch back on with the Patriots?

TB: Right now I just take things day by day, so I couldn't call that. I've never played in the CFL – I've never played in the NFL – so I can't really have any goals to do anything. Coming out of school my goal was to do as well as I could in the Navy, and I think I've done a good job. My next goal is to think more short term than long term, and just try to make sure when I get in the CFL to do what I need to do to actually stay there in the CFL. That would be a guarantee there, so based on how I go and how I perform I just want to take it day by day and hopefully get better.

Tell me about your tour of duty off the Horn of Africa. How did you benefit as both a person and a leader from that experience?

TB: I guess the biggest thing you learn is you learn patience and you learn how to deal with people on a day-to-day basis. You have tasks to do, but you're not at the Naval Academy. There's a lot of stuff you've practiced on and worked up, so in a sense it's kind of like any other sport. You practice and one day your time may be called and you might have that mission you need to go do and you want to go do it. I did a variety of jobs, so I got to interact with pretty much everyone on the ship. It was a really great experience.

Is there a sense of pride now that you've come back, a sort of sense of accomplishment that you have a chance to become an ambassador for service academy football on an even greater level?

TB: It's weird, because when you're on the ship everyone wants to talk about football and when you're playing football everyone wants to talk about how it is on the ship. Just to share in those experiences and let people know that there are a lot of good things the U.S. military does, and that there are a lot of people out there who are risking their lives day-to-day – not to say I was in harms way every day, but there are a lot of people who are -- it's good. People are really interested in it and ask questions all the time. It's just good to talk about it and humbling, because people you think might have no interest in that stuff will sit down and will listen to you talk for hours about it.

If you're are allowed to play in the CFL next year, what would your goal be?

TB: My goal is just to get better every day. I guess I was in training camp last year, but I just know that I have the potential to do a lot of things, and I want to be able to get out there and compete. I love competition. Anytime I'm in the weight room or anywhere, everyone knows that I'm probably one of the biggest competitors people know. I would like to get there, be able to compete for a position, and then be able to compete once I get on the team – do whatever I can do just to help the team get better.

How often do you talk to the Navy about your status?

TB: I talk to probably one or two different people higher up than me at least four or five times a week.

Is there a concern being out of the game for a year works against you, or did it maybe help you grow in other ways that benefit you're next move?

TB: I think it works both ways. In a sense you could look at it as a hindrance because I wasn't out on the field and wasn't able to be out running around, but at the same time I knew I had a job to do. But I still feel refreshed, still feel young, and I feel good running around.

Another classmate of yours – and a former player to try out with the New England Patriots – recently was added to an NFL roster. Do you still talk to Eric Kettani at all, and if so, what do you talk about?

TB: We talk all the time. I actually just got off the phone with him maybe an hour or so ago. We talk at least once a week, or if we both have something we really need to talk about we'll be texting so we can find time to talk about it. He's the same way. He's just trying to stay in good spirits, and if we keep doing things the right way we remain really optimistic that we'll be able to pursue our dreams.

Adam Nettina has been covering college football at the Naval Academy for the past five seasons. He is the former Sports Editor of the Utah Statesman and currently writes his own sports and pop-culture blog called Option Pitch and Waffle Crisp.

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