Deion Barnes gave the Penn State football program a much-appreciated present for his 18th birthday.
Barnes, the highly regarded 6-foot-5, 222-pound defensive end who led Northeast Philadelphia High School to its first Philadelphia Public League championship in 27 years, committed during a Thursday morning press conference at his high school to a Nittany Lion team smarting from finishing second to Notre Dame for an All-American defensive end Ishaq Williams one week ago.
Georgia was Barnes' other finalist after he'd already eliminated Michigan, Pitt and South Carolina from a pool of about 15 Division I colleges that offered him scholarships. He's the 14th recruit to commit to the Nittany Lions for 2011.
"Most of all, comfortability,'' Barnes, who said he formed a strong bond with defensive line coach Larry Johnson, cited as the reason he chose Penn State. "It was the comfort I had with the coaches.''
Ranked a four-star talent and the sixth-best weakside defensive end in the class by Rivals.com, Barnes was the Philadelphia Daily News Public League co-player of year, a Philadelphia Inquirer first-team all-southeastern Pa. selection and second team Class AAAA all-state. As a senior, Barnes had 85 tackles, 13 sacks and three blocked punts, including one that set up the Vikings' first touchdown in Northeast's 13-6 win over George Washington in the Philly Public League Class championship game.
He scored the winning touchdown in that game on a 5-yard pass off a fake field goal.
"I'm most proud of winning the Public League championship,'' Barnes said. "We lost two years straight. One thing I was not going to do was lose to them again. I was very focused on that.''
Barnes finished his career with 205 tackles, 32 sacks and five forced fumbles.
"He's a powerful person. He's a powerful personality,'' Northeast coach Chris Riley said. "He's a rarity as a defensive player in that he has a conscience. Some kids will skip an assignment. He's always very focused on his area on a particular play.
"You can't teach his size, and he has the frame to put on a lot more weight. But, in the three years I've known him, he hasn't missed a game or a workout. It's an hour ride for him to get to school, and he's always there for a workout that might be an hour or an hour and 15 minutes.''
In fact, Barnes might be best described as someone who lives, sleeps, eats and breathes football.
"My dad [Robert] had me out playing when I was 8. I fell in love with it,'' said Barnes, who recently gave up basketball to focus on conditioning for football.
Barnes said his favorite free-time activity is watching tape, but not always of opponents or of his favorite player, Julius Peppers.
"I'll go watch older guys like Deacon Jones to see how they'd do it,'' Barnes said. "Or Jim Marshall.''
Barnes is very critical of his own performance, telling BlueWhite Illustrated at his press conference that he might not have the tools of other players but he'll do his best to close the gap by outworking them.
"I would say I'm quick off the ball, relentless in the pass rush, a vocal leader on the field and strong against the run,'' Barnes said. "I need to put on a little more weight, otherwise I'm going to get pushed around by those 300 pounders.''
Barnes seems to be athletic enough, however. When injuries left his team short on receivers for the Chesapeake Bowl all-star game, his coaches moved him to wideout.
Although Barnes didn't make his college announcement until Thursday, he was long regarded as a heavy Nittany Lion lean. He'd been to Penn State three times, and his only other official visit was to Georgia last weekend.
He said it was truly a happy birthday.
"It's probably one of the best days in my life,'' Barnes said, "behind winning the league championship.''
The Lions still are looking to fill a couple of slots in this recruiting class. According to internet recruits, they extended a scholarship offer to Youngstown Ursuline running back Akise Teague and began recruiting Wisconsin defensive tackle Donte Phillips in recent days. Phillips was headed to Indiana before the coaching change there. Teague, Ohio's Mr. Football, is a Cincinnati commit.