New signing evokes part of Esks’ past
You’d have been forgiven LAS VEGAS if you did a double-take.
After all, Marcus Howard is no longer part of the Edmonton Eskimos.
Yet, if you took a glance around Bill (Wildcat) Morris Rebel Park during the Edmonton Eskimos’ three-day mini-camp at the University of Nevada — Las Vegas, you’d have seen a defensive end with a familiar body-type doing a familiar swagger that caused some familiar looking dreadlocks to swing in a familiar way.
Sure, Zachary Barnes is too young to pass for Howard up close without a helmet on, but have you ever heard of reincarnation?
“You know, he does look like Marcus a lot,” fellow defensive lineman Almondo Sewell said with a laugh. “That’s the first thing I asked him, ‘Are you related to Marcus Howard? He said, nah. He doesn’t even know who that is, but he looks like Marcus.
“That’s not a bad thing. He’s a good player. The D-ends they brought in this year, they’ve got a lot of upside to them.” Barnes is the latest addition. Heck, the six-foot-three, 229-pound Texas Tech product wasn’t even part of the team when the weekend began.
“As you know, he’s one of the kids from the workout on Saturday and it’s been hot, he was out there for four days and this (mini-camp) is three days in a row, so he’s doing a good job,” Eskimos defensive coordinator and assistant head coach Mike Benevides said of the lone player signed from among the 100 who turned up for Saturday ’s open tryout in Las Vegas. “For him, it’s like anything else — there is a large learning curve for a defensive lineman in our league with motions and pass, and it’s the most physically demanding position in pro football, but he’s gotten a start.”
Even if he’s done it while looking like a piece of the past.
“The players are really talking about him already, and obviously he looks like him, he’s got the long hair like him, but there’s only one Howie,” Benevides said. “So there’s a lot of work for ‘Texas Tech’ to get done yet, but the players are certainly making the similarities to his body type and his stature. “And he’s a nice kid, too.” But it’s considering whose kid he is that adds a modicum of legitimacy to the idea of reincarnation.
You see, he’s actually Zachary Barnes Jr., son of the namesake who was drafted in the ninth round (230th overall) in 1984 by the San Diego Chargers as a six-foot-five, 261-pound Alabama State product.
He spent the next season with the Atlanta Falcons before turning his attention north of the border.
“He played in the NFL and he played about a year or two in the CFL, I forget where, exactly,” said the 23-year-old native of Lawrenceville, Ga. “He had a lot of injuries.”
Unfortunately, the only Barnes listed in the Eskimos media guide is Jason.
“He wasn’t really big on football after it ended,” Barnes said. “It was, I guess, just kind of a phase in his life and he just let it be what it was.”
Football wasn’t on young Barnes’s radar. Instead, he earned his black belt in taekwondo by age 13.
“I didn’t really start playing until my Grade 10 year in high school,” Barnes said. “He never really made me play, I just went out one year and loved it. He asked me all the time, ‘Do you love it? Because you’ve got to love it to be good at it.”
While he still might have to prove his love, Barnes at least comes in looking the part — whether or not he ever intends to channel his inner Marcus Howard.
“People keep talking about him,” said Barnes, who is only familiar with one former Eskimos player.
“I know one player from this team, what was it? John Chick, he just retired. We knew him down south, we even watched some film on him sometimes.”
He originally attended an Eskimos tryout in Dallas before being invited back to Vegas, where he clocked numbers similar to the ones on his pro day: 26 bench press reps, with a time of 4.63 seconds in both the 40-yard dash and the short shuttle alongside a 37.5 inch vertical leap.
But none of those numbers translated into the National Football League draft.
“Things just didn’t pan out so I decided to take my talents here,” Barnes said. “(Reaching the pros) is the ultimate dream of any football player.”
For many of his new teammates, Zachary Barnes brings to mind former Edmonton Eskimo defensive end Marcus Howard.