Derrick Barnes was selected by the Detroit Lions in the 2021 NFL draft, and that moment was a special one for plenty of reasons for the player.
Not only would Barnes be coming to the league to play football and enjoy all the spoils of hard work, it was the realization of a life-long dream that had been decades in the making. One person might know as much about that as Barnes, and it’s Los Angels Rams’ offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth.
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Whitworth has been in the league for over a decade, starting his career in 2006 with the Cincinnati Bengals. While there, he made a large impression on a young player who grew up in the shadow of the city, and that experience is something that bonds the pair to this day.
As Whitworth was being revealed as the Walter Payton Man of the Year winner, he shared a special story about connecting with Barnes on the field earlier this season after a chance encounter years ago that brought it back full circle. Here’s a look:
“One experience brought it all together for me this year and it happened to me on a football field,” Whitworth explained. “In our game against the Detroit Lions, I had a young player from the Lions run up to me as soon as the final horn went off. I saw him sprinting over and I didn’t know what was going on, like we had known each other forever. I couldn’t place him. It made me so nervous. Had I actually played long enough that a coaches son or players son is playing against me? He stopped then and he said ‘hey man, you’re not going to remember me. I’m Derrick Barnes. You spent time with me when you were a young player in Cincinnati at the Boys and Girls Club and it meant the world to me. You used to sit with me and talk to me about life, and I was just a little kid. I want you to know how much it meant to me.’ He goes ‘you know what, the main thing I wanted to say Whit, I made it. I made it to the NFL big Whit.’ Wow.”
Whitworth was honored during the event as the winner of the award thanks to his connection with the community. Specifically, Whitworth has been involved in housing initiatives in Los Angeles as well as Louisiana. Historically, though, he’s always been deeply involved in the community which this story proves.
Safe to say there wasn’t a dry eye in many houses after watching this viral moment play out.
Barnes Showing Winning Personality for Lions
After working through the ranks, Barnes was scooped up by the Lions in the 2021 NFL draft and has progressed well to this point for the team statistically and otherwise. As part of his indoctrination into the league, Barnes has had to learn the difficult position of linebacker, but has done so with class and a hard-working mindset. It hasn’t been hard to see what the Lions saw in Barnes to make him a pick, as he showed off his personality in this notecard segment with the team earlier this season:
It’s certainly special to see the man and player Barnes is becoming, and to hear the story of Whitworth’s connection with him when he was a kid is something that is very special to note indeed.
Barnes’ Career Stats & Highlights
What has been shown thus far on the field is just what the Lions seemed to think they were getting in Barnes. Based on his track record from college, a pretty productive player. Barnes has been a productive player in the Big Ten, racking up 226 tackles, 25 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception in his college career. The numbers paint the picture of a tackling machine and a guy who can get after it in between the lines and make big plays for a defense sideline to sideline. The talent is clearly there.
Here’s a look at what the highlights show from college:
In the pros, Barnes has hardly taken a step back off showing the same type of grit and determination on the field. Statistically, Barnes had an up-and-down first season, but still managed to finish with 67 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2 passes defended in 17 games played. Here’s his top NFL highlights thus far:
When Barnes finally does make it big in the league, he might owe this early experience with Whitworth as a major reason why. That’s a good example of paying it forward and the benefit of the community outreach programs the league strives to have.