Just a few months back, Derrick Barnes’ name came into focus during the end of the NFL season when the Detroit Lions linebacker was referenced by Andrew Whitworth during the NFL Honors ceremony.
Whitworth revealed in February that Barnes was a young player who’s life he touched over a decade ago with the Boys & Girls club. Now that Whitworth has retired, Barnes is picking up the mantle in a big way and running with it himself.
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Barnes, from Covington, Kentucky, is right back mentoring at the very same Boys & Girls club where he connected with Whitworth many years ago hoping to inspire the next generation of youth as much as Whitworth inspired him. A report from Brandon Saho of WLWT showed how Barnes is getting involved and going hands-on in a big way.
As Barnes told Saho in the clip, the experience he had in life helped motivate him to come back and connect with kids who are in his exact shoes currently.
“You don’t know what those kids are going through. I was a young kid that had bad things going at home and nobody would know unless you asked. I just wanted to come here and put a smile on the kid’s faces,” he said.
Being in the presence of young people who are facing the same path Barnes faced is something the linebacker admitted is a bit surreal to him as well.
“It’s crazy because it just takes me back to the Whitworth thing. Those kids see me and they look at me exactly how I was looking at Whit. Just a positive role model,” Barnes explained.
As for the night in February that quickly went viral, Barnes admitted that it helps inspire him to connect with the community in a bigger way and touch even more people himself.
“It was crazy. Very emotional for me, I know for him too. Him knowing the impact he had on my life was crazy. That’s why I want to do so much more. It was just phenomenal, man. It touched a lot of people and I’m glad that moment happened,” Barnes told Saho in the clip.
By the day, it’s becoming even more clear what a special player and person the Lions have in Barnes.
Whitworth’s NFL Honors Speech Revisited
As Whitworth was being revealed as the Walter Payton Man of the Year winner a few months back, 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 in real-time with Barnes in attendance. Whitworth would likely be very proud of what he’s seeing from Barnes now upon making it to the NFL himself.
Barnes Gets Projected for Major 2022 Season From Coach
In terms of his game on the field, Barnes seems to be taking important steps forward as well. Discussing this development with the media on Monday, June 13, Sheppard seemed very encouraged by Barnes in his room. To say that’s good news for the Lions would be an understatement given what they are hoping to see out of their 2021 fourth-round pick on the field this year.
“I’m even more excited about that player right now with having my hands on him for about two months now this offseason. He’s done everything and more I’ve asked. He’s completely bought in,” Sheppard said of Barnes. “A lot of people around the building say they see a new guy and you know, I see the guy that I always thought was there and it starts with the coach believing in the player to be able to pull out the most in a player. If you go into that with high optimism and high praise and thoughts on the player, the player feels that and in turn without knowing it, it’s kind of a mind game at the same time when with the coach-player dynamic.”
Sheppard seems to know the right buttons to push in order to get the most out of Barnes, and he seems to feel as if that’s going to be something that benefits the team during the 2022 season. His most glaring admission? Once Barnes has everything down-pat, he’s going to pop in a bigger way.
On the field and off, it looks as if the Lions have a great player in Barnes. Giving back so soon in his career is something which is special to see no matter the stats he puts forth in 2022.