New sign­ing evokes part of Esks’ past

Edmonton Journal - - SPORTS - GERRY MODDEJONGE

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.”

TRENT SCH­NEI­DER

For many of his new team­mates, Zachary Barnes brings to mind for­mer Ed­mon­ton Eskimo de­fen­sive end Mar­cus Howard.

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