EL PASO, TEXAS (KTSM) – Versatility is one of the most valuable traits anyone can have in any walk of life and that is especially true for the game of football.
This fall, UTEP standout Dennis Barnes will do something rarely seen anymore on the gridiron; and his flexibility extends off of the field as well.
Kordell Stewart earned the nickname “Slash” for his ability to play multiple positions for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1990s; now, Barnes is looking to bring back the moniker.
“Wherever they put me on the field, I’m going to do what I have to do,” Barnes said. “I just want to help the team win.”
He doesn’t know who Stewart is, so perhaps New York Giants defensive back Jabrill Peppers is a more apt comparison for the season Barnes is about to embark on.
Now a junior, Barnes burst onto the scene in 2020 as a defensive back for the Miners, making 22 tackles and breaking up five passes, good for second on the team. He’ll again be one of the top players in UTEP’s secondary this year, but he’s added another title: wide receiver.
That’s right; Barnes will be playing both sides of the ball in 2021, a feat rarely seen in college football in the 21st century.
“Whenever I can get a chance to go on offense or defense, they’ll plug me in,” he said. “I have a good knowledge of both sides of the ball so it’s all about getting reps, really.”
He looks to Peppers for inspiration. Predominantly a defensive back at Michigan, Peppers still managed to play offense for the Wolverines, scoring five offensive touchdowns, with a punt return TD as well in three seasons in Ann Arbor.
Barnes will do the same for UTEP. He’ll play most of the game defensively, sprinkling in 10-15 snaps on offense throughout the game. He’ll also feature prominently on special teams on the Miners’ kickoff squad, and has been seen fielding punts at practice so far in fall camp.
He played both ways at both the high school and junior college level so this isn’t anything new for Barnes. In all three phases of the game, he can get the job done.
“It’s funny, you just don’t see guys doing what Dennis does anymore,” said Miners head coach Dana Dimel. “It’s great to see him really show some improvement there (at wide receiver) because before it was, ‘ok we’ll get you in there,’ but now he’s figuring out the intricacies of his route running and doing a nice job with that part of it.”
Off the field, he’s just as versatile. Barnes is a music producer in his spare time, doing well enough now that artists around the world use his beats in their songs.
The Missouri native began making beats with friends at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic and it has turned into something much bigger for Barnes.
“Making music is something that helps me stay busy. The moral of the story is that I like making music with my friends and it turned into a job,” said Barnes.
He’s got a lot of jobs on the field, but he’s managing it well. UTEP envisions Barnes making plays throughout the season, whenever and wherever he’s out there.
“I just have to be in my playbook a lot. It’s a lot to navigate but I for sure can handle it,” said Barnes.
That’s music to the Miners ears.