Barnes Steals Spotlight at Wide Receiver

When a star recruit is moved to a new position two weeks before the first game, it's easy to question his performance. When Mark Barnes was suddenly shifted to wide receiver on Friday, many asked themselves what the problem was. As it turns out, there never was a problem. According to Coach Steve Spurrier, "Barnes catches everything near him."

Though interceptions are nice, receptions are better. For Mark Barnes, his hands seemed best used with a Gamecock quarterback throwing to him, not the opponents. Barnes first scrimmage at wide receiver on Saturday was more than a good showing – it was somewhat amazing. One of the most complex offensive schemes in the country, Barnes ran his routes, leaped, grabbed and acted as though he'd been an offensive letter-winner for three years.

Hauling in four passes for 80 yards and a touchdown, Barnes garnered the loudest applause throughout the afternoon. Take no credit from Tommy Beecher who "threaded the needle" on a couple of the passes, but Barnes was the beginner, and he grabbed it all.

The most notable facet of Barnes game was his relaxed approach. Seemingly running routes as if he'd known the offensive schemes all along, Barnes outshined all of the star studded receivers from the 2007 recruiting class.

"I felt pretty good. It was a long day, kinda' hot, but it went well. I had fun," he said.

Asked if he enjoyed the move from the defensive backfield to receiver, there was no delay answering, "Oh definitely... I feel comfortable whenever I'm on the field. It's (an idea) that'd been roaming around for a while, and they finally decided to do it."

It seemed at times Barnes was evading one question: Is this what you've wanted all along?

"My preference (when I signed), I probably would have said wide receiver," said Barnes, "Really though, I just wanted to play wherever to get me on the field first."

Looking like a game breaker already, Barnes took the politically correct route when saying, "I just want to better the team. If that means making more plays then I gotta' do it."

Not only were the 5,200 fans in attendance surprised, Barnes surprised even himself, "I was surprised a little bit with how many balls I caught and my awareness on one of the passes that wasn't towards me."

A humble young man, obviously reared acceptably, his ego came out but only when dressed with a smile. Asked if he was as comfortable on the field as he appeared to be, Barnes smirked and said, "It just comes naturally. I just love to be on the field. When I'm on the field... I just try to have fun."

Even though Barnes' has taken the reigns so late in the pre-season, his goals haven't wavered at all.

"I really don't know (my place on the depth chart) right about know," said Barnes, "Hopefully I'll be starting. If I'm not starting, I hope I'm seeing the field real soon."

The next question is natural for any football fan, especially Gamecock fans: Can he handle the rigors of playing both ways if need be?

"Right now if splitting time (on both sides of the ball) helps the team win more games, then I'll do that. If not, I'll stick to one," said Barnes, "Right now, though, we are just trying to get me in the system and knowing both sides of the ball."

Coincidentally, Barnes sports #13 – the same number worn by another multi-positional player at Carolina in recent years. Asked if he could fill the tremendous role of Syvelle Newton, Barnes answered, "I think I can. Anything can be done."

Often easy to spot the athlete who relies on the "safe answer," Barnes was not. Though he gave the typical "I just want to help the team win" speech, it all seemed genuine. You didn't have to look far for proof as Barnes had his braces redone with garnet and black bands.

With Kenny McKinley, Moe Brown, Freddie Brown and several freshmen receivers blessed with tremendous talent, the 2007 receiving corps, though young, could be like nothing Columbia has ever seen. Barnes' move to the offense may be to help fill a void left from Joseph Hills, whose injured right knee could possibly lead to a redshirt season.

Coach Spurrier raved after practice about his newest wide receiver, "We're letting the young guys play. It was good to see Mark Barnes come in there and catch everything he touched. He's only been there a day, but he's (in the picture now)."

In the picture, in the fold, or a piece of the puzzle – say what you will about the cliches. Mark Barnes made a statement this past Saturday. He's the real deal who will find his way on the field no matter where it is.

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