Like a predator on the prowl, Deion Barnes went for the kill.
Sure, he saw Virginia’s quarterback fully exposed after slipping around a blocker in the fourth quarter. But, instead of settling for the sack, Barnes forcefully swatted the ball out of Phillip Sims’ hand to force the fumble.
Barnes, a redshirt freshman from Philadelphia, celebrated a coming out party during Saturday’s battle with Virginia when he recorded two sacks and a forced fumble in his second career game. After considering the chance to transfer in the offseason following the sanctions, Barnes said he chose to stay in Happy Valley because he felt comfortable under defensive line coach Larry Johnson.
Prior to his Penn State career, the defensive end starred as a public school player, leading Northeast High School’s team to its first Philadelphia Public League championship since 1983.
Barnes, the Philadelphia Public School Player of the Year in 2010, said he had a chip on his shoulder before even leaving high school.
“Coming out of a public league, a lot of people didn’t think I was going to be good,” Barnes said.
But after a senior year in which he recorded 85 tackles and 13 sacks, Barnes said he was heavily recruited by all but one Big Ten school and also received offers from Michigan, Michigan State and Georgia.
His comfort with the team led the defensive end to settle on joining coach Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions.
With a full redshirt season under his belt, Barnes said he, along with many other players, wrestled with the idea of transferring.
“But, you know, I’m comfortable here,” Barnes said. “Coach Johnson is one of the best D-line coaches and he can get me to the league. I thought about it but I definitely knew I would stay.”
Senior center Matt Stankiewitch said, even since joining the team, the redshirt freshman has constantly been trying to better himself.
“He’s always asking coach [Johnson] or coach [Craig Fitzgerald], ‘What can I do to improve my body? What can I do to improve my stance? What can I do to improve my moves?’ ” Stankiewitch said.
“So he’s a guy that wants to become a great player and he will be someday. He just has to keep climbing that ladder and keep striving for more.”
Barnes said he already sees improvement in his game, primarily due to coach Johnson’s wisdom, allowing him to just react instead of thinking too much on the field.
Sophomore corner Adrian Amos said what makes Barnes such a good pass rusher is his ability to quickly get around the edge, which allowed him to force the fumble on Saturday.
As Barnes described the play, which took place in the heat of the fourth quarter, he demonstrated situational awareness.
“I saw the quarterback stepping up, but he didn’t release the ball,” Barnes said. “I went after his arm instead of just going for the sack, because we needed a turnover at the time.”
Stankiewitch said that though his teammate still has room to improve, Barnes has demonstrated great strides in his short career at Penn State.
“He’s the type of guy that he doesn’t settle for anything,” Stankiewitch said.
“And that’s the type of guy that we want for our defense, especially at defensive end.”
To email reporter: firstname.lastname@example.org