The already brutal challenge of playing in the NFL only got more daunting in 2020.
After virtually all offseason activities were canceled, teams held highly modified training camps with minimal contact drills in the summer and weren't even able to participate in preseason games. A loss of key reps proved particularly challenging for players from Kern County, many of whom entered the year on the roster bubble.
Things didn't get easier once the regular season began, as those lucky enough to land with a team were hit with a wide-array of new obstacles. Injuries, preseason cuts, positive COVID-19 tests, having a future Hall of Famer in the midst of a career year above them on the depth chart — local players went through it all in 2020.
But even in the face of major adversity, many of them rose to the occasion, finding ways to outperform expectations and carve out key roles on teams with championship aspirations. For their efforts, four players who came through the prep ranks in Bakersfield will be participating in the postseason, which is set to kick off on Saturday.
Below is a list of local talent that will spend the coming weeks playing for the right to hoist the Lombardi Trophy on Feb. 7.
Krys Barnes and Jordan Love - Green Bay
The only constant in a wild rookie year for Barnes was his on-field production for the Packers.
An undrafted linebacker, Barnes, a Liberty High School graduate, went from being cut in training camp, to signing with the practice squad to becoming a week one starter all within the span of eight days in September. He quickly proved to be worth the investment Green Bay made in him, recording seven tackles in his NFL debut.
His productivity continued from there. Barnes finished the regular season second on the team in tackles (80) and third in tackles for loss (6.5), despite missing three games due to a positive COVID-19 test midway through the season.
Barnes also came up clutch late in the season. He forced a key fumble in 24-16 week 15 win over Carolina, punching the ball away from quarterback Teddy Bridgewater as he attempted to reach it over the goal line. Barnes then recorded a career-best 14 tackles (eight solo) in a 35-16 win over Chicago on Sunday, helping the Packers secure home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
He'll be joined in the postseason by high school teammate Jordan Love, though the quarterback isn't likely to see the field, playing behind presumptive 2020 league MVP Aaron Rodgers.
Up next: A week of rest. The 13-3 Packers secured the conference's lone first-round bye and will be off until the divisional round, where they'll host the lowest seed to emerge from Wild Card weekend.
D.J. Reed - Seattle
Like Barnes, Reed, a former standout at Independence, found a way to succeed through a series of challenges in 2020.
After playing in a Super Bowl with San Francisco last season, he was waved by the 49ers after suffering a torn pectoral muscle in the offseason. He quickly landed on his feet, though, and with a former rival.
Reed, a cornerback, was quickly scooped up by Seattle and he made an immediate impact upon his return to the field in week eight, recording six tackles and an interception in a 37-27 win against his former team.
He remained a steady contributor the rest of the season, recording 62 tackles and two interceptions in nine games. He also helped lead a massive turnaround for a defense that had been one of the league's worst early in the season.
After allowing 28.6 points per game before Reed was activated, the Seahawks surrendered just 19.9 a contest once he entered the lineup. They even had a three-game stretch in December where they allowed just one touchdown, keying a strong finish to a season that saw Seattle go 12-4 and win the NFC West.
Up next: The NFC's No. 3 seed, Seattle will meet a familiar foe in the Wild Card round, as the sixth-seeded division rival Los Angeles Rams will come to Seattle at 1:40 p.m. Saturday. The game will be broadcast on Fox.
The two teams split a pair of regular season games and will be playing for the second time in three weeks. The Seahawks kept the Rams out of the end zone in a 20-9 win in week 16.
Jared Norris - Washington
After signing him to their practice squad after training camp, Washington elevated the former Centennial linebacker to its active roster in October. Playing mostly on special teams, Norris was credited with three tackles on the season.
Despite going just 7-9, Washington did enough to win the much-maligned NFC East, clinching a playoff spot with a 20-14 win over Philadelphia in week 17. It marks the second time Norris will be on a playoff squad, also reaching the postseason with Carolina in 2017.
Up next: A primetime date with the GOAT. Washington earned itself a home game against fifth-seeded Tampa Bay (11-5) and six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady, who threw 40 touchdown passes in his first season with the Bucs.
The game will air at 5:15 p.m. Saturday on NBC.