KSU's Barnett settling in at defensive back
By ARNE GREEN
Special to The Telegram
MANHATTAN — Dante Barnett learned quickly last year when unbeaten Kansas State visited Baylor that he was a marked man.
And it wasn't just the Bears and their potent offense that targeted the grayshirt freshman. All eyes were on Barnett, who was making his first career start in place of all-Big 12 free safety Ty Zimmerman with a No. 1 ranking and possible national championship in play.
The Bears, fighting for bowl eligibility themselves, attacked Barnett through the air early and often on the way to a stunning 52-24 upset. Talk about trial by fire.
"It was big," said Barnett, who started the last two regular-season games in Zimmerman's absence. "Coach always says you're a play away and next thing you know after Zim got hurt I was actually a play away, even though I did have a week to prepare to get that start.
"We had just gotten the number one position in the nation, so I figured that I had to step up on the defense and play a good role."
It did not end well for Barnett or the Wildcats as Baylor went after him quickly for an early touchdown and never took its foot off the throttle.
"Having taken that loss last year just haunts us and we want to prepare this week so that we can be prepared for Baylor this year," Barnett said of the No. 15-ranked Bears, who visit Snyder Family Stadium at 2:30 p.m. Saturday with a 4-0 overall record and 1-0 Big 12 mark. "This game means the same to everybody on the team (because) we all took that loss last year as a team."
Barnett wasn't surprised that Baylor targeted him last year, what with three other seniors in the secondary and no Zimmerman. But it was a hard lesson.
"I didn't really think much of it," he said. "I was just like, 'Well, it's time to play football.'
"Everybody was like, 'You know you can play football, just go out there and play,' and that's what I did. It still lingers in your head sometimes, but playing DB you're going to get beat sometimes, so you learn how to get over it so you can keep playing in the game."
Barnett, who did lead K-State with 14 tackles against Baylor, started again two weeks later when the Wildcats clinched the Big 12 championship with a 42-24 victory. Zimmerman returned for the Fiesta Bowl and remains at free safety as a senior, but Barnett has stepped into the lineup at strong safety and ranks fourth on the team in tackles with 31.
"I've come a long way," Barnett said. "That was my first career start and it's been many months since that start, so I feel that I'm well prepared out there on the field."
Defensive end Marquel Bryant, a fellow sophomore, has seen Barnett mature as well.
"Since that game, I think he has grown a lot as a player and as a teammate, on and off the field," Bryant said. "He's focused, he works hard every day and every day he does something more.
"He brings energy to the field."
Barnett insisted he's ready for another crack at Baylor, even though the Bears are even more dangerous on offense this year, leading the nation with 70 points and 779 yards per game. Quarterback Bryce Petty has completed 72.8 percent of his passes for 1,348 yards with 10 touchdowns and just one interception while leading receivers Antwan Goodley and Tevin Reese both average better than 100 yards per game
"It's always exciting," Barnett said.
"I'm more experienced now so I know what to expect out there on each play.
"It's a challenge and I love challenges. We wouldn't be playing college football if we didn't like challenges every week."