But even though the Bruins hadn’t extended an offer, Barnes felt good that one was coming on his unofficial visit.
So good, in fact, that should an offer actually be presented while he was on campus, Barnes wasn’t going to leave without committing.
“I had a feeling they were going to offer when I got there,” said Barnes. “The whole week when I was planning in my mind, I was thinking what is the best thing for me to do. And the best thing for me to do could be to commit there. I had a feeling I’d commit there. But once I got there and was sitting with Coach (Jim) Mora, Coach (Tom) Bradley and Coach (Scott) White, it sealed the deal for me. It reassured me that this is the place where I wanted and needed to be. And I wanted to be a Bruin.”
As soon as Mora and his coaches offered Barnes, Barnes told them he was in.
And despite having over 15 offers and UCLA waiting to offer Barnes on the visit, that waiting ended up paying off and playing a key part in Barnes’ decision.
“Coach Mora told me, 'We would have offered you sooner, but we knew we could get you here so we wanted to do it in person.’ That meant a lot to me. He wanted to do the offering with me personally and with my family there to experience it and be a part of the offer. The one thing I’m looking for in a college is the family aspect and every coach is about that at UCLA. That was one thing that triggered me,” said Barnes.
Barnes raved about Mora, especially being the one to offer him personally, but the Bruins’ two newest coaches, Bradley, the recently hired defensive coordinator, and White, the newly promoted linebackers coach, also made an impact with Barnes.
“Coach White, honestly, it’s great to have him as my position coach and my recruiter,” said Barnes. “He’s such a great coach already and he’s already trying to develop me. He’s already critiquing my film and giving me tips on what I’ve got to do for the next level, so once I do get there, I’ll have my game that much more developed,” said Barnes. “We already have a great relationship.”
And Bradley’s experience with linebackers and the defense at Penn State also is something Barnes is eager to be a part of.
“When I sat down with Coach Bradley, my parents and I went over all of his schemes and how he coaches,” said Barnes. “He’s a great guy and a great coach with a lot of knowledge. To know that I have however many coaches be a part of helping me develop, it’s exciting.”
The place that he’ll spend the next four to five years of his life also played a role in Barnes’ decision.
“UCLA is a beautiful and great campus,” said Barnes. “Since we were there on a Saturday, there weren’t as many people walking around, but its great because everything is kind of centralized and nothing really gets in the way. The whole campus is beautiful. The weight room is nice, the locker room is nice and everything about it I love.”
Barnes said his family was 100% on board with his decision and just as excited as he was.
“My parents were there with me to be a part of the day and on the ride home, they were both fired up about it and so happy for my choice,” said Barnes. “It was the same feeling I got. They like the family aspect of it and know it’s a great place to be.”
Barnes said having the chance to follow in the footsteps of another Central Valley product who just wrapped a stellar career for the Bruins was an exciting prospect.
“Being able to follow Eric Kendricks, that’s a cool pattern to follow and I know I could follow in his footsteps coming from the Valley,” said Barnes. “I know that I’ll have a chance to put in the work and the coaches that developed him and the other linebackers, I’ll have a chance to play for them and maybe get in a position to win a Butkus Award like him.”
Barnes will likely play in the same spot that Kendricks did too.
“Coach White is talking to me about inside 'backer,” said Barnes. “If something happens where I need to play outside, I will, but they want me to come in and play that inside spot.”
With his decision out of the way, Barnes said he’s turning in to a recruiter himself.
“I’m definitely recruiting Lokeni Toailoa. He’s one of my main guys. I’m trying to get him on board. And then hopefully we’ll get Caleb Kelly too, get him to come down from the Valley,” said Barnes. “Then we’ll recruit some defensive linemen. But we want to get this linebacker group the best and help UCLA and help us.”
Toailoa is his Ground Zero 7v7 teammate and there are two other teammates, both on the offensive side of the ball, that Barnes is targeting.
“I talked with Demetric Felton (on Saturday) after I committed and he was all excited and I’m trying to get him over there and Damian Alloway, I’m working on him as well. It would be cool to have all of those guys on board,” said Barnes.
Barnes credited Ground Zero with his development as a player and as a recruit.
“Before I became a part of Ground Zero, I wasn’t getting much exposure,” said Barnes. “But Armond Hawkins exploded me and helped me get my name out there and he helped me tremendously and schools getting a chance to see me. I was a nobody at first and then in a month, I exploded into an abundance of offers, so I’d definitely say I owe a lot to Ground Zero.”
After helping Ground Zero win the Pylon Elite National 7v7 in Las Vegas, Barnes followed up his showing there with an MVP performance from the linebackers at The Opening Los Angeles and punched his ticket to The Opening Finals in July.
“That was huge for me,” said Barnes. “I went in there knowing I was going to play my hardest but there were a bunch of great linebackers there. To win MVP and earn an invitation to The Opening, there was nothing better to get from that camp. Some of the top athletes in the nation were there and they’ll all be at the biggest camp in the country at The Opening. I always want to represent where I’m from, and my performance there showed its possible.”
Barnes said he’s done with unofficial visits now that he has his choice and wont visit anyone officially but UCLA.
“I’m not taking any other unofficial visits and I wont visit anyone officially,” said Barnes. “I don’t want to waver. UCLA is heavy on my heart and that’s where I want to be. I want to be a Bruin.”
Barnes had considered mid-year graduation but said he wants to enjoy being a high school student next year.
“I’m going to do regular June graduation and enroll next summer,” said Barnes. “I think it’s just best to finish off my senior year. Having my decision done now, it’s a good stress reliever. It’s not a bad stress to go through, it’s a good stress. To know I’m with one college now. I don’t have to come up with a list of top schools or talk to a bunch of coaches. I have one school that I’m going to. That’s amazing.”