If Alex Barnes looked a step slow last season, well, that’s because he was.
That’s what happens when a defender inadvertently steps on your ankle during an inconsequential nonconference game and you’re suddenly hampered with an injury that limits your mobility for the remainder of the year.
On the rare occasions his ankle felt near full strength, Barnes was able to top 100 yards in games against Kansas, Oklahoma and UCLA. When his ankle felt weak, it was hard for him to stay on the field. Add on the usual wear and tear of a 13-game schedule and it’s easy to understand why he only saw single-digit carries in six different games.
Barnes, a rugged junior from Pittsburg, powered through to rush for a team-high 819 yards and seven touchdowns while playing in every game. A solid year, all things considered. Still, it was a step back from his freshman debut, when he averaged 7.9 yards per attempt.
“It hurt me, I would say, more mentally than physically,” Barnes says now. “It was frustrating to have to fight through nagging injuries, not being able to do some of the things I wanted to do.”
A year later, it seems like Barnes took out his frustration during offseason workouts.
He is now healthy, happy and in the best shape of his life. He seems poised for a bounce-back season.
“Alex has been unbelievable,” K-State offensive coordinator Andre Coleman said at the start of preseason practices. “He had a great summer and has probably been the most impressive guy in camp. He is committed to the process, committed to the team, he has developed as a leader. It won’t be a surprise to me when he (excels) on Saturdays.”
Barnes first hinted at bigger things last April, when he stole the show at K-State’s spring game by running and cutting his way to chunk gains and touchdowns like he did as a freshman. Then he changed his diet, doubled his efforts at the gym and improved his already impressive physique.
Football players can’t control injuries, but he says he has taken every precaution to guard against another freak accident.
“I did do a lot of extra stuff this offseason, whether that was putting in time at the weight room here or at my internship here in town at a personal training gym,” Barnes said. “I probably did two hours of extra stuff each day to get my body in a place where it needs to be. I am eating better and cleaner, doing some things I might have overlooked when I was younger. I want to make this a special year for myself and my team.”
His teammates have noticed.
“Alex worked harder than anyone else on the team this summer,” senior running back Dalvin Warmack said. “His work ethic has always been crazy, but he has just gone above and beyond. He has become a guy we can rely on to lead us in the locker room and make big plays on the field.”
That should make him the unquestioned starter, even in a crowded backfield. Much has been made of K-State’s depth at running back over the past few months. In addition to Barnes, the Wildcats return Mike McCoy, Justin Silmon and Warmack.
Competition has been fierce in practice, and Coleman may choose to spread carries across the position more than former coordinator Dana Dimel.
Could that make it difficult for Barnes to put up all-conference statistics? Maybe. But Barnes is fine with that kind of arrangement.
Now that he’s back at full speed, he shouldn’t need volume to make a run at 1,000 yards.
“My teammates have got my back,” Barnes said. “There are four of us now, so I might not need as many carries. We are going to be winning games this year, and it is going to be fun.”