After a 2012 season in which he was Big Ten Freshman of the Year and consensus freshman all-America, Deion Barnes had stardom predicted for his future.
Better late than never?
Following a sophomore season — statistically, at least — in which he was largely a non-factor for the Penn State defense, Barnes is back in a big way.
The 6-foot-4, 255-pound end has reemerged as a disruptive force along PSU’s defensive line. Coming off a two-sack game last week against Maryland, Barnes has five sacks and 24 tackles over his past four games.
To put those numbers in perspective, Barnes had two sacks and 28 tackles all of last season.
“What Deion does is show up every single day and work to the best of his ability,” defensive tackle Austin Johnson said. “Of course whenever you have that one season he had, there’s going to be big expectations.
“I really didn’t see him show any frustration or anything like that. He’s a guy who’s always trying to stay on the positive side of things.”
Unless you’re talking about opponent carries, of course.
Barnes is averaging more than one tackle-for-loss per game this season, having at least one in every game in which he has played a full four quarters.
His consistency has been welcome for a unit ranked third nationally in total defense.
“He’s a pro,” PSU defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said. “Prepares like a champion every day. Very focused and determined, and he has a chip on his shoulder.”
Coach James Franklin recognized Barnes in front of the whole team earlier this week.
“Just talking about his maturity and his work ethic, and with that, how he prepares every single day and the success he’s having,” Franklin said.
“Deion would love to run 4.5 in the 40 — but he doesn’t, so he realizes that he needs to be perfect with everything else to be the type of player that he wants to be for his team and for himself. With that mentality and that work ethic, he’s having a really nice year.”
Sacks aren’t the lone measure of a defensive end — and former coach Bill O’Brien repeatedly defended Barnes’ lack of production in that area last season by saying teams were scheming against him.
This season — perhaps aided by the strong play of Johnson, Anthony Zettel, C.J. Olaniyan and others next to him on the PSU defensive line — the sack production is back.
Over the final 11 games of the 2012 season, Barnes had six sacks.
Then over a 14-game span from 2013-14, he had two (one solo).
He has six sacks (all solo) in the six games since.
“Deion’s going out there and playing every snap like it’s his last,” Johnson said. “He’s playing really well right now.”