‘Book of Barnes’ gets chance at next chapter

Sean Shapiro and Sean Shapiro

We might as well call the past BG football season the “Book of Barnes.”

It seemed every ball released landed in the hands of wide receiver Freddie Barnes and every week he left us wondering what he would do next as we drove home from the stadium.

It was a 155-catch, 1,770-yard, 19-touchdown ride that started early and didn’t let us off until the very end.

From BG’s season opener where he had a then school record 15-receptions against Troy to his miraculous 22-catch, 278-yard and three touchdown performance against Kent State five weeks later, Barnes was a human highlight reel for BG over the past nine months. He caught more passes than any player in NCAA history, putting the Falcons on the national stage with his Biletnikoff Award Finalist status.

Even in defeat, Barnes has been the story of the year for BG athletics. In BG’s stunning 43-42 loss to Idaho in the Humanitarian Bowl the receiver still had 17 catches for 217 yards and three touchdowns.

All of the on-field exploits have made for great stories and put Falcon football in national record books, but the next chapter of Barnes’ story could be the best.

Saturday the NFL Draft concluded and after 255 picks Barnes was not selected, a slap in the face that just seemed to prove all the doubters who said his physical skills didn’t translate to the NFL.

But hours after Tim Toone — a wide receiver from Division I-AA Weber State, who had 72 less catches than Barnes and stands only at 5-foot-10, 175 pounds — was taken as Mr. Irrelevant by the Detroit Lions, Barnes was signing on with his hometown team the Chicago Bears.

Barnes’ life seemed to come full circle with the signing, returning home where he was raised by a mother who gave birth to him as a 14-year-old. Soldier Field is just 22 miles away from Homewood-Flossmoor High School where he played high school basketball with NBA player Julian Wright.

The prelude to Barnes’ NFL career is an amazing story in itself — recruited quarterback turned wide receiver turned NCAA record holder. But what Barnes does at the next level could be truly amazing.

Yes, he’s an undrafted free agent, but Chicago didn’t use any of their five picks on a wide receiver, opening the door for a gifted route runner on a team that has several holes in the position.

Heck, Chicago’s top three receivers last season were their tight end, running back and a converted punt returner.

A psuedo-west coast style of offense, Barnes’ ability to get open for those quick 7-to-12-yard routes that are a staple of the Bears offense, could earn him playing time right away and possibly become a key to Jay Cutler’s offensive arsenal.

Granted, it’s going to be a tough road for Barnes. As everybody who has watched the Falcons play this past season knows, Barnes is a gifted playmaker who performs well in the clutch.

Size, speed, weak competition and any other doubts NFL scouts had about Barnes before should be thrown out the window. Give him the chance he deserves and maybe the people in Chicago will see what we saw within the confines of Doyt Perry Stadium over the past nine months — pure excellence.

It’s not something that is out of the question, and I look forward to reading and watching the next chapter in the “Book of Barnes” unfold.