Barnes, who started the Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter at his high school, visited Athens and immediately felt at ease with Richt, who is open about his Christian beliefs.
Religion “has been a big deal with me since I’ve been here,” said Barnes, a 6-foot-3, 219-pound sophomore. As a consensus national top 10 quarterback, Barnes had plenty of options coming out of Baldwyn High School, particularly in his home state. Most of his family attended Mississippi State, and he liked Ole Miss except for the instability surrounding David Cutcliffe’s coaching staff.
Had Barnes gone to either of those places he wouldn’t now be in the middle of the most crowded quarterback battle in the Southeastern Conference. Barnes will enter practice Saturday competing with senior Joe Tereshinski, redshirt freshman Joe Cox and freshman Matthew Stafford for the starting job.
Meanwhile, Mississippi State and Ole Miss are searching for anyone competent to take a snap.
“Obviously, I’ve noticed the situation in both places,” Barnes said.
That doesn’t mean he’s sorry he’s at Georgia, where he knows he has been all but written off in the competition.
“I’m starting to hear that nobody is expecting me to come out of this on top,” he said. “That makes it even more exciting. It’s an opportunity to prove everybody wrong.”
Barnes’ spirituality shouldn’t be confused with meekness, said Georgia team chaplain Kevin Hynes.
“He sent me an email the other day, and he sent me a bunch of quotes that people were saying about him,” Hynes said. “He said he’s got something for them. He ain’t gonna lay there now. Believe me, in his mind, he’s not No. 4 on the depth chart.”
Barnes didn’t get a fair chance to prove himself during spring practice due to a knee injury that required surgery in early April. He has had two setbacks in his rehab due to overwork, but he expects to be healthy enough to compete this fall.
Barnes has been preparing for this moment since his sophomore year in high school, when he began taking extra classes in order to graduate early and enroll in college in time for spring practice.
“I want to be the starting quarterback,” he said.
But he doesn’t let that desire rule his life, Hynes said.
“He’s one of the most healthy young men I’ve been around,” Hynes said. “I think he commands a whole lot of respect from that team for having thrown just a couple passes. I think he’s a leader spiritually.”
Barnes is on the leadership group for Team United, an organization that includes three of the university’s Christian organizations, and he sometimes leads Bible study at Hynes’ home.
The same faith that brought Barnes to Georgia will keep him with the Bulldogs regardless of what happens in the month of practices leading up to the Sept. 2 opener against Western Kentucky.
“He understands that he could probably transfer to Southern Miss or Georgia Southern or Furman and play right away” Hynes said, “but he feels that God brought him here and that he’s going to honor the Lord.”
“I still feel like,” Barnes said, “even if I don’t win the job, God has a purpose for me at Georgia. What that is, I don’t know.”