This past week was a bye week for the St. Louis Rams, which meant it was an opportunity for their starting center to return home to Pettis County.
Tim Barnes, who is in his fifth year in the NFL, took advantage of not having a game this past weekend to visit the area where he grew up.
Barnes played football at Northwest High School, where he was an all-state athlete.
“I’ve been back quite a few times,” Barnes said in a phone interview “… I’ve worked out there some, things like that. There are players and teachers there still that were there when I was there.”
His journey to becoming a starter in the NFL has seemed to be a swift one considering he began his professional career as an undrafted player searching for a team to sign him to a practice squad.
Before going to the NFL, Barnes was a three-year starter at the University of Missouri. Before being a Tiger, Barnes was a Mustang.
Northwest started 11-man varsity football during Barnes’ eighth-grade year. It was perfect timing for Barnes, who said he wanted to keep playing football after being in the Sedalia Youth Football League.
“My brother and most of my friends, we played, shoot, starting in third or fourth grade,” Barnes said. “… We loved playing football and once we got the program going at Northwest you just keep going.”
Barnes played 11-man football for three years before the Mustangs went to 8-man during his senior year.
“For us it was just an opportunity to keep playing together,” Barnes said. “We were fortunate that we had football right away when we were freshmen. We immediately picked it up and kept playing.”
Barnes became an all-state player, but he still needed a way to get noticed by Division I schools coming from a town with a population less than 200.
“At a small school like Northwest where it just started a football program and no one really knew anything about it, nobody was going to notice me,” Barnes said. “My dad knew that and that’s why he would always set me up and take me up to Mizzou camps.”
Mizzou became his home for four years. He redshirted his freshman season and made the move from guard to center in 2007, taking a spot behind one of the top centers in the country at the time, Adam Spieker. The next three years belonged to Barnes.
Barnes made a name for himself at Mizzou, being named to the watch list for the Rimington Award, which is given out to the top offensive lineman.
“I had no idea I was good enough to do it or not until Mizzou offered me a scholarship and then at the same time you still don’t know for sure if you can cut it or not until you get up there and actually do it,” Barnes said.
But the 6-foot-4, 300-pound lineman went undrafted in 2011. He spent some time on the Baltimore Ravens’ practice squad before being released before the start of the season.
The Rams picked him up on their practice squad and eventually worked his way up to the active roster before the 2012 season. He ended up starting the final four games of the 2013 season for the injured Scott Wells.
Barnes returned to his backup role last season, but has started all five games this season.
“I definitely think that crossed my mind in high school,” Barnes said about the possibility of starting in the NFL. “But it’s still surreal, obviously.”
Jason Strickland can be reached at 660-530-0147 or on Twitter @J_Strick_Sports.