Timberline High School football coach Nick Mullen has tried to keep Michael Barnes on the sideline. Just for few plays to give him some rest.
But when it comes to football, Barnes wants no breaks. More than once Mullen would look out on the field on to see Barnes in the middle of the action.
“He always sneaks back in,” Mullen said of his senior two-starter. “The kid just loves football. He loves to compete.”
Barnes admits he gets a bit tired at times. But that doesn’t matter.
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“Sometimes you just have to play through it — play through injury, play through fatigue, whatever it is for the win,” the senior said.
Mullen refers to Barnes as the ultimate competitor. He is a big reason why Timberline advanced to the Class 3A state quarterfinals this season for the first time since 2006, and he led the Blazers to back-to-back 3A South Sound Conference titles.
As a running back, Barnes rushed for 1,200 yards. As a free safety, he recorded four interceptions and 61 tackles. That is why he is The Olympian’s 2017 All-Area player of the year.
“He is probably one of the best all-around players I have ever coached,” said Mullen, who has been at Timberline for nine years and coached high school football for 17. “His football IQ is through the roof. He loves the game.”
Every single part of it. Barnes, the 3A SSC MVP, was a ball boy for Timberline growing up, and worked his way through the program’s ranks when he reached high school.
“Throughout the years, he’s always been one of the productive players on our team,” Timberline lineman Conner Warick said before the season started. “As years continue, he keeps getting better.”
Barnes showed flashes of brilliance as a junior, backing up former league MVP Anthony Hathaway at running back. Barnes rushed for 550 rushing and five touchdowns and added another 157 yards and two touchdowns as a slot receiver. He even threw for a touchdown in a district-playoff win.
He barely rested in the offseason, picking up his first Division I offer from the Air Force Academy, and was named the defensive backs MVP at an Eastern Washington University camp.
“I think junior year really helped set me up for this moment,” Barnes said. “I was still able to play the positions I did in a more limited role (as a junior). This year, I was able to step out there. I was comfortable, and I was just ready to make plays.”
He made a lot of plays — big plays — every time the Blazers stepped onto the field.
Barnes rushed for more than 100 yards in six games this season, including a career-high 177 yards on 19 carries with two touchdowns against Black Hills in the season opener.
He eclipsed 1,000 yards for the season in Timberline’s 3A SSC title win over Peninsula, and is one of only a handful of backs in the lower South Sound to reach that mark this season.
“You get him in space and he’s hard to break down,” Mullen said. “He’s got one move and go, and you never get a clean shot on him.”
His first steps are lightning quick, opposing coaches say, and he had a tendency to pop outside and burn defenders. He can barrel over the few that did get in the way, in reaching the end zone 10 times.
“He has that rare combination of power and speed,” Capital coach Darren Tinnerstet said. “He runs hard when he’s in the hole, and he can finish runs. But also, when he gets an opening, he can turn the jets on and use his speed to outrun you.”
Barnes is a player opponents had to account for at all times, and was nearly impossible to contain.
“He could bust any play at any moment, so you had to constantly know where he was at,” Tinnerstet said. “He never leaves the field.”
Barnes recorded one of his best games of the season against Capital, rushing for 112 yards and a season-high three touchdowns. He also helped hold Capital’s high-flying offense to two touchdowns.
Chris Penner, who led the area in receiving for the second consecutive season told Tinnerstet after the game Barnes was one of the toughest safeties he’s matched up against.
Barnes was reliable — and explosive — as Timberline’s last line of defense. Twice he took interceptions back for TDs, going 36 and 55 yards. And six of his tackles were for losses.
“You don’t see that very often, where a safety is making plays in the backfield,” Tinnerstet said. “That’s something you see at the next level (in college), and at the highest level.”
That next-level ability is something coaches agree Barnes has. Barnes said he’s excited for the next chapter wherever he ends up playing college football. But, this season wasn’t about his performance alone.
“It’s just a role,” Barnes said. “We all play our roles. We’re all important. It’s really a team atmosphere.”
Barnes’ favorite play of the season was one that didn’t have his name attached to it. He happily recalls the game-winning touchdown pass from Hunter Campau to Jamarcus Graham that lifted the Blazers to a win over defending 3A champion Kamiakin in the first round of the state playoffs.
“It was exciting because our motto is, ‘One heart, one team.’ Someone else made the play, but it was for the whole team and what we all worked for up to that point,” Barnes said.
The legacy the team left, and how the players formed a family, was what mattered most to Barnes this season.
“He’s a great teammate, he’s a locker room guy and everybody wants to be around him,” Mullen said. “He’s got a magnetic personality, which makes everyone smile. He’s a great young man.”
Barnes scored Timberline’s final touchdown of the season. With the state-quarterfinal game against Bellevue out of reach, and the final seconds winding down, Barnes was sent in motion and ran to the corner of the end zone.
He waved to signal he was open, and snagged the 7-yard dart from Campau, keeping both toes down as he fell out of bounds — perhaps indicative of the plays he’ll make in the future.
“That was a good way for him to go out,” Mullen said.