Special to the Journal
It was impossible not to love and respect Logan Walls for many reasons. Great young man.
But Georgia Tech may now have a true nose tackle, a young man who truly fits the concept of a 3-4 defensive scheme.
And now, apparently, T.J. Barnes is fit for the job to replace the graduated middle man, who — very frankly — was more of a 4-3 tackle.
A certain big senior from Enterprise, Ala., with an ever-present smile has always been interesting. Chiefly, it’s been about T.J.’s size.
Barnes has been the biggest Yellow Jacket for never every second of his career on The Flats.
But that has not always translated to production. Barnes was too big, actually, for any defense. He couldn’t move much, and certainly not for long. Nothing was more important in determining that than his fitness level.
For all the reports that you might have read about him slimming down, T.J. is not much lighter now. He’s down a few pounds, from somewhere around 350+ to a ballpark of 342. Yet he’s tightened up a lot of the mass on his 6-foot-7 frame, and more importantly he’s done yeoman’s work on his heart and lungs in recent months.
He has . . . some stamina.
“I would say I played 15 to 20 snaps per game last season,” he said. “I want to play 90 percent this season.”
That overly ambitious, but it leads to a point.
Barnes, who did not play 15 to 20 snaps in every game last season despite his fuzzy recollection, can make a big difference in Tech’s season. It’s not enough to have a space eater in the middle of the 3-4 if he only has enough wind to play a few downs a quarter and can’t move much.
There is a chance, though, that T.J. will be able to do much more this fall.
“I just feel amazing,” he said. “The fact that I had a good spring gave me more will to work this summer. I did all I could and got a lot better. I want to get to 335 by the end of camp. I feel great. I can imagine what I’ll feel like when I get there.”
It has taken work.
Barnes is atypical in some ways relative to most Tech student-athletes. He’s somewhat less likely to re-invent something you count upon than perhaps some of his school mates. Rather than effort to change the path of the world, he’d rather go back home, lay down in the grass upon his family’s property and gaze at the stars.
You will not, however, find a student-athlete whom everybody is more likely to embrace.
His motivation and the methods of new strength and conditioning coach John Sisk have made it happen.
“I’ll do a workout, and then I’ll go do a workout with him, and . . . I might get another workout later. I’ve done a lot this summer,” Barnes said. “I’ve got to push myself. I was about 330 when [defensive coordinator Al] Groh got here, but I didn’t feel as good as I do now.”