Friday, February 12, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot QB gets Hogs’ first offer

Leader sportswriter

Cabot High School junior Jarrod Barnes got some exciting news Thursday afternoon. The standout quarterback for the Panthers became the first in-state recruit in the 2017 class to receive a scholarship offer to play football at the University of Arkansas.

Barnes, a two-time All-State selection, had been on the Hogs’ recruiting radar for some time now, and described what his recruiting experience has been like leading up to the Thursday afternoon offer from Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema.

“Last year it started,” said Barnes of the Razorbacks’ interest in him. “Arkansas started first then this year LSU, Missouri and A-State (Arkansas State) started looking at me. But Arkansas was like the only one that’s really talked to me and this year is when it got serious and they started coming to my games and stuff.”

Barnes proved to be a difference-maker for the Panther football team as a sophomore. He accounted for 1,188 total yards and 11 touchdowns that year, rushing for 824 yards and nine scores (9.4 yards per carry).

Barnes suffered a broken thumb late in the season his sophomore year, so he moved to halfback for the last three games of that 2014 season and continued to make plays for the Panthers out of the backfield, averaging more than 100 rushing yards per game in those final three games, and did it on a limited number of carries.

His play on the field that season earned him an invite to the Razorbacks’ summer camp before his junior season, and the SEC program’s interest in him only grew from there. This past season, Barnes topped his sophomore campaign.

The junior quarterback rushed 111 times for 1,090 yards (9.8 yards per carry) and 17 touchdowns, completed 15 of 44 pass attempts for 223 yards and two touchdowns, and led the team to a perfect 10-0 regular-season record and outright conference championship.

“I’ve been talking to Barry Lunney,” Barnes said, “and he’s been keeping up with me and seeing how I’m doing in school and stuff. Then today (Thursday), coach Bielema told me to call him when I can. I called him (Thursday) and he asked me what position I like to play. I said I just like getting the ball in my hands.

“He was like, ‘Oh really? That’s good to hear because I would love to get the ball in your hands and I’m going to go ahead and give you a scholarship.’ I was like, ‘What?’ He said, ‘I’m going to give you a scholarship.’ He said, ‘What would it mean to you?’

“I said it would mean a lot, because all of my friends and family, they like Arkansas and I like Arkansas and it would just mean a lot. And then, he gave me a scholarship.”

Barnes, 5-foot-11, 173 pounds, 4.52 seconds in the 40-yard dash, can’t officially sign with the Razorbacks until signing day of next year, his senior year. He didn’t officially commit to Arkansas with Bielema’s offer, but said he was excited and it meant a lot to him to receive the offer.

Barnes has been a quarterback for as long as he’s been playing football, which he said started at about 4 years old, but the Razorbacks are recruiting him as an athlete, and quite possibly as a slot receiver.

“I’d like to play quarterback,” Barnes said, “but it’s really up to them. Wherever they want to put me, I just want the ball.”

Since the Mike Malham coaching era began at Cabot in 1980, only three players from Cabot have ever received an offer to play football for the Razorbacks. Barnes is the first player since 1989 to receive an offer from Arkansas, but is the only skill player to get an offer from the Hogs in the 35 years Malham has been at CHS.

“Jarrod, he’s special,” said Malham. “He’s a difference-maker. We put the shotgun in for him this year and a couple of times we’d have bad snaps and it turned out to be one of our best plays when he had a bad snap. He’d pick it up and he’d make something happen.

“The last time Arkansas offered one of our kids a scholarship was back in 1989, Ray Straschinske, a big tackle that went up there and played for them. So we’re excited about it and hopefully next year he’ll have another better year.

“In 35 years, this is the third offer (from Arkansas). We don’t have them very often, but it’s pretty neat.”

Malham, known well for his run-oriented Dead-T offensive attack that always has the quarterback lined up under center, for the first time added a shotgun/wildcat package this past season, solely because of Barnes’ playmaking abilities.

“We’ve had two Arkansas signees, Straschinske and (Dennis) Kirkland, but they were big linemen,” Malham said. “I’ve never had a skill person that actually went D1. He’s the best athlete that I’ve ever had at Cabot.

“In fact, the best athlete that I’ve always said ever came out of Cabot is Steve Burks, who played for the New England Patriots, played at ASU the same time I was up there, won the state decathlon when he was a senior at Cabot.

“We graduated the same year and went to ASU together and he was an athlete. I mean, he did everything in high school – played basketball, football, actually got drafted to play baseball out of high school, but decided to go to ASU and play football.

“Arkansas offered him, but his older brother played up there and had some kind of bad experience and he wasn’t going to go to Arkansas. So we got him at Arkansas State, and when he came out, he was drafted by New England and played with them for four years and then just kind of walked away from the game. He wanted to get traded and they wouldn’t trade him, and I don’t think he went back.

“But I always said he’s the best athlete that ever came out of Cabot, but now I’m not so sure. This kid Jarrod, he’s just so explosive. He’s almost full speed after one step. After his first step he’s got it going. He’s so quick off that first step and he’s almost full speed within his first couple of steps.

“He’s tough and he’s made those ole Cabot 12, 13, 14-play drives turn into one and two-play drives, which is pretty nice.”