Michael Barnes had two jobs during his days as a ball boy for the Timberline High School football team.
“Make sure they have a ball every play. Make sure it’s dry,” he said.
Barnes started working on the sideline for the Blazers as a fifth-grader, and continued until he joined the high school program as a freshman four years later.
Now a senior, and projected to be the Blazers’ biggest playmaker as they tries to defend their Class 3A South Sound Conference title, Barnes has picked up a few more responsibilities.
“We expect a lot from Michael,” Timberline coach Nick Mullen said. “We expect him to grind it. We expect him to get big plays. We expect him to control the defense and control tempo. He’s going to do a lot.”
Barnes, who landed his first Division I offer from the Air Force Academy in May, is used to taking on a big load. During his career at Timberline, he’s found a way to make an impact almost everywhere on the field.
Last season, as a back-up running back to league MVP Anthony Hathaway, Barnes rushed for 550 yards and five touchdowns. He had another 157 yards and two touchdowns as a slot receiver, and threw a touchdown pass in Timberline’s district playoff win over Oak Harbor.
He played some cornerbak early on in high school before moving to free safety, and was named the defensive backs MVP at an Eastern Washington University camp in June.
“He can kind of do it all,” Mullen said. “As an overall schematic, we’re going to move him around to get the ball to him.”
Conner Warick, a two-way senior lineman for the Blazers, said all of the movement has helped Barnes become a better all-around player. Barnes was primarily a running back when he and Warick started playing together on their Thurston County Youth Football League team in the third grade.
“Throughout the years, he’s always been one of the productive players on our team,” said Warick, who also has a college football offer from the Colorado School of Mines. “We always had our right side, and if he went to the right, he’d usually score.”
The team had a bet, Warick said, where they would see if Barnes could score on the first play of a game, and were successful a handful of times.
“As years continue, he keeps getting better,” Warick said.
Barnes is smart and consistent on the football field, and Mullen attributes some of that to his time as a ball boy. Having Barnes around the high school experience before he was a high school player did a lot, Mullen said. Barnes could see the speed of the game, and know what to expect.
“I think that helped him understand the ins and outs, and how a team works together,” Mullen said.
Far removed now from his days on the sideline, Barnes is who Timberline looks to in big moments. In addition to playing running back and safety, Barnes could be used as a kick or punt returner or as a receiver in the slot or outside.
“We’ll do some things,” Mullins said. “He’s an athlete. You can put him anywhere on the field and he’s successful. He’s got top-end speed. He’s elusive.”
This much is certain — if Barnes gets the ball and finds space, he’ll be hard to stop. His touchdown runs last season were for 89, 50, 49, 73 and 27 yards.
Barnes’ two receiving touchdowns against Bonney Lake last season were for 56 and 15 yards, and his touchdown pass against Oak Harbor was for 60. He’s a big play waiting to happen in whatever position he’s in.
“He’s always going to be explosive,” Warick said. “If he gets outside, it’s going to be hard to get him. He runs hard, and he has great vision.”
Given the choice of playing just one position, Barnes likes the backfield.
“I’ll take an 85-yard run any day,” he said, smiling. “You get to look at everybody on the way through.”