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November 26, 2009
Before the season, Bowling Green wide receiver Freddie Barnes studied the Falcons' record book to give himself some goals for his senior year.
It turns out he was setting his sights too low.
Now that Barnes already has shattered many of his school's receiving records, he has bigger goals in mind. Barnes has 129 receptions, putting him 13 shy of tying the NCAA single-season record set in 1989 by Houston's Manny Hazard.
Barnes will try to break the record Friday when Bowling Green (6-5 overall, 5-2 in the Mid-American Conference) meets Toledo (5-6, 3-4) in its regular-season finale.
Even if Barnes falls short, a Bowling Green victory likely would put the Falcons in a bowl, giving him one more chance to catch Hazard.
"My main thing is trying to beat Toledo," Barnes said.
Of course, shattering the record in the process would make the victory even sweeter.
"Being able to leave my college career with that [record], what receiver wouldn't ask for something like that?'' Barnes said. "That would be cool."
Barnes' ability to threaten a 20-year-old record just one season after injuries held him to 40 catches ranks as one of college football's biggest surprises. How he got to Bowling Green in the first place is even more of a stunner.
Barnes' mother, Clarissa Charles, gave birth to him when she was just 14 and raised him along with help from her sister. Not only did she raise a son who is on track to graduate from college in May, but she also earned a college degree herself just before Barnes entered Bowling Green.
"There's definitely a whole lot she had to deal with at a young age," Barnes said. "People think me and my mom have like a buddy-buddy relationship because we're close in age, but it wasn't like that. My mom was very strict."
The unusual family dynamic occasionally caused some tension. Barnes wondered if his mom understood what he was going through in high school since she had to grow up in such a hurry. Charles wanted to make sure her son didn't repeat the mistakes she had made.
"It bothered me, but I knew what she was trying to do," Barnes said. "Everything she tried to do was in my best interest, to break the family curse of having kids when you're teens and those types of things."
Charles taught those lessons well enough to get Barnes into college, but he still had to find a way to get back to his favorite position. While most kids always dream of playing quarterback, Barnes always wanted to catch passes instead of throwing them. He rarely got that chance. Once coaches saw him throw the ball, they immediately moved him to quarterback.
That's what happened in his Pop Warner league. And it happened again at Homewood-Flossmoor High in the Chicago suburb of Flossmoor.
"The quarterback was talking junk to me, so I threw it back just to show him up," Barnes said. "And that was all she wrote."
Indeed, Barnes played quarterback throughout his high school career and signed with Bowling Green as a quarterback. He moved to wide receiver only after injuring his throwing arm in a loss to Wisconsin during his freshman season.
Barnes went on to earn third-team All-MAC honors as a receiver with 82 catches, 962 yards and nine touchdowns as a sophomore in 2007, his first full year as a receiver. But he struggled with injuries last season and caught just 40 passes for 355 yards.
So how did he suddenly emerge as the nation's most prolific receiver?
"I've never been this healthy going into the last game of the season," Barnes said. "This has definitely been a blessing for me, just to be healthy and allow myself to play to the best of my abilities."
Barnes certainly has made the most of the situation. He has caught 36 more passes than anyone else in the nation. He also leads the NCAA in receiving yards (1,482), receiving yards per game (134.7) and is tied for the lead in touchdown catches (14). Barnes collected 22 receptions - one shy of the NCAA single-game record - for 278 yards in a 36-35 victory over Kent State on Oct. 10. He has caught at least 10 passes in eight of his 11 games.
"As we've gone to the air, people have come up with different junk defenses and different ways of doubling him, yet he's still been consistently productive," Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson said. "He still comes out of the game with eight to 10 catches and over 100 yards. With the type of attention he's getting, it's that much more impressive."
Barnes, who is 6 feet and 206 pounds, soon must try to impress NFL scouts. Although Barnes has put up PlayStation-type numbers against all kinds of defenses, his relative lack of speed could keep him from getting drafted in an early round. Rob Rang, a senior draft analyst for nfldraftscout.com, projects Barnes as a fifth- or sixth-round pick.
Rang noted that Barnes could get taken late in the third round or early in the fourth round if he runs the 40-yard dash in less than 4.45 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine. Barnes said he posted an average time of 4.62 seconds in the 40-yard dash this summer.
"He isn't going to be as highly rated by NFL scouts as he might be from fans who are watching him and seeing how productive he's been because he has a lack of prototypical speed," Rang said. "If he comes in faster than expected [at the Combine], that's gonna help him out. But however fast he might run, even if he has a competitive 40 time, when you watch him on film, he's just not an explosive guy in terms of straight-line speed."
Barnes noted that he hasn't done as much speed training as other receivers because he primarily played quarterback for much of his life and frequently has spent the offseasons recovering from injuries. As soon as he wraps up his senior season, Barnes plans to devote much of his energy to polishing his running technique and building up his speed.
"I know that I can run routes and be physical with corners and catch the ball and make plays," Barnes said. "I know it's a speed league. I know what I need to do to capitalize on the small opportunity I have to enter the NFL in the offseason."
Barnes' average speed indicates he might be nothing more than an average receiver in the NFL.
But the NCAA record book soon may suggest otherwise.
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.