As one of the new guys on the Colorado football team when he arrived in January, Robert Barnes knew he had to earn respect first.
It didn’t take long, however, for the transfer from Oklahoma to start speaking up and become a leader.
“He came in as a grad transfer and really went to work right away, the first week and everybody was noticing, ‘Who is this guy?’” head coach Karl Dorrell said. “No one really that was on the team last year really knew who he was, but I think he quickly has established respect and that leadership that he’s brought just because of his work ethic.
“He’s always been vocal; he’s always been very encouraging with his teammates. Those are all really great qualities of leaders who really understand how to pick guys up that need to be picked up and how to get on guys that need to pick it up. He’s been a great addition for us.”
A 6-foot-3, 230-pound linebacker, Barnes brings not only experience to CU’s defense, but first-hand knowledge of what an elite team is supposed to look like. He played in 34 games – including 10 starts – over four seasons at Oklahoma. The Sooners went 45-8 with four Big 12 titles and three appearances in the College Football Playoff during Barnes’ time there.
“I just knew that I wanted to help with the culture shift,” Barnes said of coming to CU. “That’s one thing (defensive coordinator Chris) Wilson was telling me before I came here and I wanted to be a part of that.”
Despite being a rotational player for the Sooners and having an annual opportunity to play for a national title, Barnes decided this winter it was time for a change.
“I did my time at Oklahoma and got off to a good start; I started for two years,” he said. “I went through some injuries and … I just kind of took a dip mentally. After my senior year (in 2020), just to get back in my mind, emotionally and all that stuff I just needed a new change of scenery. That led to here.
“(Choosing) Oklahoma wasn’t a mistake but I wanted to make the right decision the second go-round. I got a chance to talk on the phone to with coach Wilson and it was a great fit, and I trusted him, he trusted me, so decided to come to Colorado.”
After arriving in January, Barnes went through spring practices. CU’s top defensive player, linebacker Nate Landman, was out with injury and that allowed Barnes to step in at linebacker, and as a leader.
“I took that as an opportunity to just be vocal and bring guys along and earn respect first,” Barnes said. “I didn’t want to come in and just start saying this and that. I worked, I won every rep, I made sure that I could lead by example. I’m already a vocal guy. I’m a loud guy, so it was easy to just back that up come summertime and just be loud, be vocal, encourage everybody.
“It’s been Nate’s role for the last four years. I’ve enjoyed being able to kind of piggyback off of that and him to have another vocal guy that can help guys get lined up and knows what they’re doing and can kind of get this defense on the path to be top five in the country.”
Last year, the Buffs ranked 77th nationally in points allowed (31.7 per game) and 76th in yards allowed (420.3 per game). To make a significant jump this year, they will need players like Barnes to be at their best.
A safety and linebacker at Oklahoma, Barnes could line up in a variety of spots for the Buffs this season.
“I love it,” he said. “I think it shows versatility and I’ve always just been able to embrace that role, that challenge of coming down into the box, going to the middle of the field, covering one on one. It’s one of those things that I love to do.
“It’ll come down to personnel and I’m open to do whatever coach Wilson wants me to do. I kind of want to be a Swiss Army Knife type of guy that can play whatever and just be all over the field.”
For Barnes, one of the best aspects of his transfer is that he’s got two years to play with the Buffs.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “The two years is almost like security. It’s a way to be in here and kind of know that it’s not just a one-and-done type thing. I have time to build, I have time to grow, get better every single day and see where that takes me.”