It’s hard to imagine that Carlisle grad Nate Barnes could have had a better sophomore season as a part of the PSAC champion West Chester football team.
He became an impact player, all while switching from defensive back to the inside linebacker spot in the Rams’ 4-2-5 scheme.
The position change wasn’t too bad since he played outside linebacker with the Thundering Herd. In fact, Barnes said his bigger transition was when he moved to the defensive back upon arriving at West Chester.
Being back at the linebacker spot was a “restart” for him, and he had an outstanding 2018 campaign.
Barnes was second on the team with 82 tackles (57 solo), posting 8.5 sacks to go along with an interception and two fumble recoveries.
In the PSAC championship game at Slippery Rock, Barnes made a team-high 11 tackles with a pair of sacks.
And yet, he still wants more.
“It was a really good year as a team. But personally, I could have done better,” he said. “I missed out on some sacks, had a couple interceptions I dropped, so there is a lot of room for improvement.”
It’s now motivation for next season.
“Going into spring, one of things I’m going to harp on is not missing tackles,” he said. “Plus, I am getting used to the run-stop and the gaps. I want to get better with my hands and play more with my shoulder.”
There’s certainly no reason to doubt that Barnes will do what he sets out to. As a freshman at West Chester, he ended up not only playing, but was fifth on the team in tackles.
None of that was not a part of the original plan when he first arrived from Carlisle, where he was an All-Sentinel First Team outside linebacker for the Thundering Herd that relished stuffing running backs as a disruptive OLB while becoming one of the best receivers the program had in the past decade.
“We had planned to redshirt Nate as a freshman, but we had a couple of injuries which pushed Nate onto the field,” Rams head coach William Zwaan said. “Once he started playing, he showed he could handle the college level and eventually earned a lot of playing time.”
According to Zwaan, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Barnes has the size and athleticism, along with great instincts, that made him adjust to collegiate football quite well.
“We were expecting him to make the transition to linebacker and would be really good in the passing game. But he definitely performed better than expected in the run game,” the coach said. “His feel for the game helps him get to plays and avoid blockers. He is also an excellent blitzer, so he gets to the QB.”
With his skills from the defensive backfield and athletic prowess, Barnes can stay with receivers and tight ends. He can rush the quarterback or drop in coverage, as displayed by his five quarterback hurries and five passes defended that ranked second on the Rams.
Barnes said the season highlight was winning the conference, especially after the Rams lost to Indiana University of Pennsylvania in the 2017 title game.
“We knew the coaches wanted to get that PSAC championship. And it was his birthday weekend, so we wanted to give him that for a present,” Barnes said. “We had plenty of PSAC East championships, but never won the whole PSAC.
“In high school football we were never elite. We made playoffs twice and lost in the first round. Winning a championship, starting and playing in my second year of college meant a lot. It was really cool.”
Zwaan added that Barnes’ future is a great one at West Chester, which won its first 10 games before falling to the University of New Haven in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
“He is very mature mentally and physically. He is very competitive so he immediately accepted the challenge and he was more ready then we had expected,” Zwaan said. “We knew he had the ability, but his quick adaptation to linebacker and his feel for the game was better than we had thought.”