DE Barnes Feeling Right at Home

The move from Philadelphia to Penn State was difficult at first. But the redshirt freshman is now so comfortable at the school that he passed when given a chance to transfer without penalty.

A year ago at this time, Penn State defensive end Deion Barnes just wanted to go home. The Philadelphia native was a true freshman with the Nittany Lions, and the atmosphere he found on the rural campus in central Pennsylvania was a far cry from life in the city.

“I was homesick when I got up here,” Barnes admitted. “I always wanted to go home. But after toughening it out for the first year, I'm good now.”

Boy, did he and his classmates ever tough it out. Besides the usual difficulties rookies encounter adjusting to college life, they were also clobbered with the Sandusky scandal and its considerable aftermath.

That included NCAA sanctions that were handed down late last month, penalties against the program that include a four-year bowl ban. The NCAA also gave Penn State players the chance to transfer to other FBS schools and become eligible immediately.

Barnes thought it over and decided to stay put.

“I was still able to play football after the sanctions,” he said. “And I'd still be able to play for the greatest coach in the nation. That was it, that's what sealed it for me.”

The coach in question is Larry Johnson, one of two assistants from the previous staff new head coach Bill O'Brien retained when he took over. Johnson is regarded as one of the best defensive line coaches in the country, and has sent one player after another into the NFL. That list includes six first-round draft picks since 2000.

Barnes appears to have the tools to be the next great one at Penn State. At the team's Media Day Thursday, O'Brien singled him out as a “really good, young player.” In the spring, teammates marveled at his ability to bat passes and create turnovers.

But, having yet to play a game for the Nittany Lions, Barnes is the first to admit he has a long way to go before he can worry about playing at the next level.

Right now he is running with the second team, behind veteran starters Pete Massaro and Sean Stanley. The athletic Barnes excels as a pass rusher but knows there is more to playing D-end than generating sacks and making highlight reel plays.

Where does he have to improve most?

“Being strong against the run,” he explained. “I know that is one of my weaknesses now. I definitely want to improve on that. And certain ways I pass rush, I have to improve on that.”

Part of that improvement is growing into the position. When the 6-foot-4 Barnes arrived on campus, he weighed 235 pounds. He is up to 248 now, and gives most of the credit to new strength coach Craig Fitzgerald's workouts.

But something else has helped, too.

“I've always been a person that likes to eat,” Barnes said. “(In the last year) there was more food available. A home, you have to use up all of your money to buy food and go to the store. (That is) all presented to you here at training table.”

Over the past year, the concept of “home” has changed for Barnes. Last August, he longed to be there. This August, he realizes he already is.

“At first it was hard, but you get used to it,” he said. “It's like being home. I consider this home right now. … I'm used to it and I love it up here.”

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