Krys Barnes has gotten his chance this year with the UCLA Bruins, and he hasn’t let it slip away.
The sophomore linebacker — and Liberty High School graduate — hopes his hard work is on display Tuesday, when the Bruins face Kansas State in the Cactus Bowl. The game is scheduled for 6 p.m. in Phoenix, Ariz. and will be televised on ESPN.
Barnes isn’t the only Bakersfield native taking the field in the contest. Kansas State cornerback D.J. Reed, an Independence High School graduate and All-Big 12 player a season ago, also figures to be a featured player in the contest.
“It’s a big deal for sure,” Barnes said said of the two taking the same field on national television.
Barnes said playing at Liberty, under the tutelage of head coach Bryan Nixon, defensive coordinator Ryan Renz, and linebackers coach Justin Crane helped prepare him for Division I college football.
While Barnes said the speed of college football and getting used to more sophisticated defensive schemes were a sizeable adjustment, he added that practice drills and overall technique were not. In that respect, Barnes said, he was able to hit the ground running at UCLA.
This winter, four former Liberty players are competing in college football bowl games, which is an eye-catching number in itself.
“When they came over (from Centennial High School) my sophomore year and pulled me up to the varsity team, they helped me a lot,” Barnes said of his former coaches. “They prepared me very well for the next level.
“Three incredible people,” he would add. “They taught me things, and I went from there.”
Renz said Barnes started his Liberty career as an inside linebacker, but the team changed defensive schemes and eventually moved him outside.
Barnes was a physical specimen (he's currently listed at 6-foot-2, 250 pounds), a sideline-to-sideline player who was adept in coverage and liked to hit.
“We needed more speed on the outside,” Renz said. “He had the length, the size and the speed to cover. And you didn’t want to run at him. You would be in trouble….A special athlete.”
Barnes was primarily a special teams player as a freshman at UCLA, making three tackles on the year.
This season, however, he has moved into a more prominent role. Barnes said it started during the team’s Week 2 game against Hawaii, when he was inserted into the lineup due to injury. He has produced since, and is tied for fifth on the team with 50 tackles.
In an email to The Californian, UCLA defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said Barnes has had some outstanding moments as a sophomore, but must continue working on his consistency. Still, Bradley said the experience Barnes has gotten this year will pay off as his college career progresses.
“Krys is a player who really stepped up this year and made the most of the opportunity in front of him,” Bradley pointed out.
Perhaps Barnes’ defining moment in 2017 is not the fact that he received an opportunity with the Bruins, but that he’s continued to contribute in his more sizeable role as the season has moved along. At a high-end Pac 12 program, where players can patiently wait until their junior and senior seasons and still not see their chance come to fruition, such a turn of events is far from a given.
“It’s a testament to his intelligence and his ability to pick up the system. You better pick it up quick,” Renz said. “You get recruited at that level — all of them have the ability. I think it’s his ability in the film room, to pick up the game quickly, and to do what they’re asking of him.”
Barnes said he hopes to meet up with Reed following Tuesday’s game. The Independence graduate took the hard road to Manhattan, Kan., playing initially at Fresno State before transferring to Cerritos College and then to the Wildcats. He’s currently a junior.
The Kansas State athletics department did not make Reed available to interview for this story.
“D.J.’s story is a very unique one. It’s always good to see someone make a name for themselves, and he’s doing big things at K-State,” Barnes said. “He should be proud of that, and I’m looking forward to it.”