JUCO DT overcame asthma to become top prospect

The start of Tarow Barney’s football career was postponed because of severe asthma.

Now that that’s cleared up, his potential on the field has taken the breath away from college football recruiters.

Two years ago, only smaller college programs like Troy, South Alabama and South Carolina State were willing to take a chance on the Bainbridge, Ga. product. This fall, Barney was ranked as the No. 19 junior college prospect in the nation by ESPN and received scholarship offers from Arizona State, Kansas State, Colorado, Illinois and Cincinnati. Even Alabama was charting his progress.

However, last week the 6-foot-1 1/2, 290-pound defensive tackle from Northwest Mississippi Community College verbally committed to Penn State after making an official visit to University Park the weekend of the Nebraska game.

“I knew it had a good tradition of football and a good program,” Barney said of what made him consider Penn State. “They’ve had some downfalls with the probation, but I knew I was going to get a good education.”

Barney ultimately picked the Nittany Lions over Iowa State. He said the opportunity to be tutored by Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson played a pivotal role in his decision.

“I just made a connection with him,” Barney said. “He’s the best at what he does, at coaching the D-line and sending D-linemen to the next level. And that’s what I want to do. I want to be coached by the best. I figured it was a good place for me to come in and earn a spot to play and get a good education.”

The opportunity to play and play early is there for Barney. The Lions lose starting defensive tackles DaQuan Jones and Kyle Baublitz to graduation. The only defensive tackles on the current roster are Austin Johnson, Derek Dowrey, Brian Gaia, Parker Cothren and Tyrone Smith — Smith is the only senior in the group, with Johnson, Dowrey and Gaia all being redshirt freshmen.

Anthony Zettel also could see time on the interior.

“They told me nothing is given, but I have a good chance and earning a spot if I work hard,” Barney said.

Barney is rated as a four-star prospect and the No. 3 JUCO defensive tackle in the country according to 247Sports. He’ll play three technique at Penn State, although some colleges thought he was athletic enough to see action at defensive end.

As a sophomore, 9 1/2 of Barney’s 36 tackles were in the opposing team’s backfield. He also had 3 1/2 sacks and five quarterback hurries for the Rangers, who played him on the inside in a 4-2-5 scheme.

“He’s extremely athletic for a big guy. He runs very well. He’s a great vertical pass rusher. He’s a powerful guy,” said former Northwest Mississippi defensive coordinator Ricky Coon. “His best football is ahead of him. He’s a high-character guy who’ll do exactly what they ask him.”

Coon described Barney as a very raw prospect with a lot of potential. The reason is Barney just completed only his third year of football.

Barney developed chronic asthma as a young child which kept him from playing football even though he enjoyed the sport. He wasn’t able to join the team until his senior year of high school.

“My senior year, it got better. I had to use my inhaler at games and practice. I just fought through it,” Barney said.

Barney showed enough in that one year to draw some Division I college attention and to get an offer from Northwest Mississippi, whose program was only allowed to bring in eight out-of-state players.

“To be honest, I hadn’t even heard [Barney had asthma] until after the season. I couldn’t have told you he ever had that problem,” Coon said. “He was probably 250 pounds that first season. He’s just going to get bigger and stronger. After one spring in a Division I program, he’s going to blow up.”

Barney will enroll in January and plans to major in computer science. One might think arriving in Pennsylvania in winter might be a big adjustment for a young man who went to high school in southern Georgia, but Barney was born in Rhode Island, moved to Massachusetts in second grade, then relocated in Tallahassee, Fla. for middle school before arriving in Bainbridge for ninth grade. He actually grew up a fan of the New England Patriots.

Still, the cold, blustery conditions for the Penn State-Nebraska game were an eye opener, but they didn’t deter Barney.

“Now that I’ve lived down south eight or nine years in the hot weather, it was pretty hard for me,” Barney said. “It was cold, but it was pretty intense. I hadn’t been in that type of environment before. It was great.”

Barney was the 16th player to commit to the Lions and joined fellow early enrollee Antoine White as the second defensive tackle. Penn State is heavily involved with two other prep defensive tackles as they look to complete this class.

Virginia four-star recruit Derrick Nnadi is scheduled to take an official visit to Penn State this weekend, when he’ll be joined by Mount Lebanon offensive tackle Alex Bookser and most of the current members of the Lions’ 2014 recruiting class. Thomas Holley, the consensus top prospect in New York and a five-star player, also is heavily considering Penn State and could commit this month.