NFL Draft diaries: New Mexico’s Stanley Barnwell Jr. isn’t your typical Safety prospect

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‘I’m by the Statue outside.’ Stanley Barnwell Jr. recited, telling me about a very memorable phone call with one of his coaches. He stepped outside Oklahoma airport on his first day at JUCO only to realize that he was at the wrong airport…three hours away from where he was supposed to be. Football is often seen as a glamorous sport where stars shine brightly and highlight plays live on forever. The reality is, that many of the players we watch week in and week out, at any level, are just like you and I. Take New Mexico Safety, Stanley Barnwell Jr. for example, who on his first day at Coffeyville community college, arrived at the wrong airport. It’s slightly ironic that someone who talks so humbly about his journey to becoming a key defensive player for New Mexico plays with the viciousness of a supervillain.

Barnwell Jr. grew up in Miami and was introduced to the game of Football at a young age. His Father decided to take his son and Hosea Barnwell V, Stanley’s cousin who currently plays at FAU, to a new Football team that was just starting in the area at age 5. The bond between the Barnwell boys would turn into a brotherhood, and their love for the sport was born.

Even as a child, there was a strong work ethic instilled in Barnwell Jr, which is something he credits his parents for.

‘They molded all of us to work for what we want.’ the NFL Draft prospect told me in an interview. ‘I guess you could say it was cool. Nothing was handed to anybody and everyone in our family has a strong work ethic. The work was always repaid. That’s what made it stick most with us.’

That level of sweat equity stayed with him throughout High School, where he transitioned from playing middle linebacker to Safety. Leading by example, Barnwell Jr earned a reputation as a hard-hitting player who simply wants his name to be remembered by those he pounds into the turf. But his dream of reaching the NFL was placed on a timer as his senior season came to an end.

‘Coaches would give me their cards but I never got that big D1 offer.’ He said. ‘The season ended and signing-day was coming up and it really started to click in my head. ‘Do you really want Football to be over?’ I had a couple D3 offers from little schools but playing in Miami against the best competition week in and week out, I knew I could go bigger than that. I learned about the JUCO route and I understood it was harder than most places, it wasn’t high school but it wasn’t D1 where everything is given to you. But for this part of the process, I’m gonna work for what I want and I’m gonna show everybody why I should be playing somewhere bigger.’

Barnwell Jr. took that work ethic and placed a giant chip on his shoulder before heading out to Coffeyville Community College. It was there, following the Airport confusion, where he would meet future West Virginia safety Toyous Avery. In a Walmart of all places, the friendship was born. Both players had arrived to empty dorms with no sheets, no pillows, no duvets, nothing. Barnwell Jr. spent his first night at Juco sleeping in a chair, before crashing on his mattress, using a hoodie as a pillow. When shopping for necessities, he bumped into Avery and realized that everybody is in this together.

They say JUCO often builds a bond that other colleges don’t because of how much you have to fight for. That, partnered with an already aggressive mindset, led to Barnwell Jr turning heads in his second season. He redshirted the first.

‘Everybody I ended up cool with ended up at a D1 school.’ Barnwell Jr. explained. ‘Almost everybody redshirted their first year. We had the mindset of ‘we’re here for a reason and you’re gonna see that. At some point, you’re gonna understand.’ After redshirting it was like ‘this is our last shot. We got a point to prove.’’

Calling a coach to ask for lifts to the Gym after practice so he could put in extra workouts after hours, he wasn’t going to let this opportunity slide when it finally arose. He went from playing against the best Miami had to offer, to a collective of egos and talents from all around the Country who wanted to prove that they were the real deal. It was during discussing the intensity of this atmosphere, where everything was earned, Barnwell Jr. mentioned my favorite buzzword.

‘Process.’

‘When we made it through that process, everybody going at it every day with each other when the season started and it was game day, nobody could say anything to anybody on our team without there being a backlash. Whether it was the long snapper, the punter, quarterback, everybody was like ‘you got the wrong one’. ‘

After a year on the sideline biding his time, Barnwell Jr. was given his shot. He recorded 55 tackles, 2.5 for loss, four passes defensed and 2 fumble recoveries. A leader on the defense, his attention turned to what came next. He had gambled on himself by committing to Coffeyville and now he had to do so once more.

‘I graduated early out of Coffeyville, right after the season. Most people get their bigger offers during the Spring Semester when coaches have more time out of the season to break down film. There was a guy from Miami I met at Coffeyville named Daryl Chestnut (RB New Mexico), we got really close. He called me and was like my Coach is coming out there today and I already told him to look at you. Make sure you say something to him.’ ‘I saw him leaving the practice (Defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove and I went up to him and said ‘Coach, I don’t have any big offers right now, I’m leaving after this semester. If you’re going to take a chance on me, I’m coming. I’m going to appreciate that.’ ‘Two weeks later they sent me an offer.’

Barnwell Jr. wasn’t going to wait around. He accepted the first offer he received from a team willing to take a chance on him…and this time around, he caught the right flight. One that would ultimately take him down yet another grueling route.

There’s something about this man and a strong first impression. In his first positional meeting as a Lobo, the coach was pulling up one of the veterans for consistently making the same mistakes. He pointed at Barnwell Jr. and said ‘The clock’s ticking. If you don’t improve, he’s waiting’. Whether this was designed to light a fire under the struggling Vet, or the player who would one day take over that role, is unknown…but it worked.

“I understood how to appreciate what I came into.’ Barnwell Jr. explained. ‘Coming from Coffeyville and seeing the struggles of what you don’t have, I got there and realized this is what I was waiting on. But there are some people that go to D1 right out of High School and you never hear anything from them. I didn’t wanna be that guy. It was party or process. I was saying to myself, ‘You got here…now what are you gonna do with it’

‘Party or process’. That’s the quote that jumps off the page almost as much as Barnwell Jr.’s ability to make any tackle look like a WWE pay-per-view. It’s no surprise that a word associated closely with Philadelphia these days is also close to the heart of a player who looked up to Brian Dawkins growing up.

After spending the majority of his first season grinding the special teams unit and developing a love for hitting on kickoffs, he would see the field as a Safety in the back half of the season. It was in a game against ULM where he really began to stand out from the crowd, racking up six tackles, all solo.

New Mexico defensive back Stanley Barnwell Jr. (9), quarterback Austin Apodaca, and wide receiver Anu Somoye celebrate after the team defeated Utah State in an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016, in Logan, Utah. (Eli Lucero/Herald Journal via AP)

In 2017, his first as a starter (8 games, 3 starts), Barnwell Jr.’s development continued. An interception on the opening play of a clash with Utah State set the tone, but there was a bump in the road he couldn’t have foreseen.

‘I rolled ankle my a couple times in 2017. It was bad enough that I couldn’t play to the best of my ability. It was part of the process.

I can’t pinpoint a spot in my life where I understood that statement more. Coming out of High School, you expect D1 Offers and it didn’t happen like that. I went to JUCO, was humbled with a first-year redshirt. Trust that process. I needed that to happen so I could end up in New Mexico. I went through a junior year healthy, being behind guys I had to learn from and then realizing ‘this is the first opportunity I can play the whole year.’

But then for whatever reason, I wasn’t healthy. This is God testing my faith. You say you believe in him, you trust in him to put you where you need to be. Injuries were part of the process. I was never really down. I looked at it like I had one more year. I’ll do everything in my ability to get as healthy as possible so when my time comes, I can do what I’m supposed to do.’

His next year was to be his last as a Lobo and he knew he had to make it count. I noticed on tape that the main difference between his Sophomore and Junior season’s was his confidence at the point of the catch. Instead of just hitting guys to try and force a fumble or blow the play dead, there was a more intricate element working its way into the 6’2, 205 lbs, safety’s play. It turns out that wasn’t just a coincidence. His four passes defensed in 2018 were a career-high and his 74 tackles were as well.

‘It was an area of focus. I realized this is my last year of college. I knew I was coming from a smaller school, I had to do something for scouts and interviewers like yourself to see. I had to grab their attention and put it on tape to show them what they’re getting.’

Well, the type of player teams would be getting is a hard-hitting, rangy Safety who likes to drive downhill and assert his physicality…and that doesn’t disappear on big stages, either.

Early in the season, The Lobos had to travel to Wisconsin…a tough matchup for anyone. He ended that game with 12 tackles.

Sep 8, 2018; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers running back Chris James (5) is tackled by New Mexico Lobos safety Stanley Barnwell Jr. (9) during the fourth quarter at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

‘The biggest game I played was Wisconsin…because I wanted it to be. Everyone’s trying to downplay the Mountain West as a conference, everyone’s hyping up Wisconsin. In my head I’m thinking, ‘you’re gonna remember who I am after this game.’ In the week leading up to it, a coach pulled me aside and asked ‘Stan…why you so hyped? Do you realize who we’re going to play?’ I said that’s the reason I play football. The competition I look forward to. I did what I said I was going to do.’

That’s been the sentiment for Barnwell Jr. so far. He’s followed through on everything he said he was going to do. He committed to JUCO, landed a D1 offer and now has eyes from several NFL teams watching his stock closely. Currently a sleeper, Barnwell Jr. is using this scenario as another platform to trust his process and put the work in.

With a Pro Day taking place at the University of New Mexico on March 8th, he’s hitting the gym most days with some familiar names. Proving he can hang, physically, with big-time players from the SEC is one thing, but paying close attention to the words that come from the mouths of NFL DB’s Brandon Flowers, Marcus Gilchrist, and Jeremy Lincoln, who all work out in the same spot, is another.

When reflecting on his journey, Barnwell Jr. didn’t seem excited, nervous, or happy, about what comes next. He seemed driven.

‘All that accumulated into one thing.’ He said of his journey so far. ‘I still have a point to prove. I’m still going to have a point to prove even if I make the NFL. I don’t wanna be a guy that just made the NFL. I want people to know who I am. I want my name to ring bells and I want to be a guy that’s looked at on Film and get a reaction of ‘we want to gameplan for this guy.’

Barnwell Jr. isn’t just content making it to the league. He wants to leave a legacy. As someone that has the desired, rangy frame, that defensive coordinators covet, he also has the willingness to play wherever will benefit the team. During his time at New Mexico, he played at both Safety spots, in the nickel, and inside the box.

‘You’re getting a player who loves the game. Who loves the competitive nature of the game.’ Barnwell Jr. said. ‘That hates to lose more than he loves to win. I’ll give you everything I got on every snap.’

When looking forward to the NFL, he’s not concerned with where is comfortable. He’s comfortable in an environment where he can leave his mark.

Everyone loves a sleeper and Barnwell Jr. is as humble and hungry as they come. He isn’t a sleeper due to injury setbacks. He’s not a sleeper due to off-the-field controversies. He put himself in this scenario. He wanted to earn every last scrap of success and if that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know, the tape certainly will.

 

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