Kansas State missed Dante Barnett last season.
That much was obvious then, but it is abundantly clear now.
Barnett, a senior safety, reminded everyone of his presence during K-State’s opener at No. 8 Stanford on Friday by dropping back into coverage and helping at the line of scrimmage. He made five tackles, including 2 1/2 for loss. On Stanford’s third play, he raced into the backfield and dropped running back Christian McCaffrey for a loss of five yards.
Not bad for a guy that missed 12 games last season with a shoulder injury.
“That tackle,” Barnett said Tuesday, “let me know I was back in college football making plays.”
The Wildcats were glad to have him back. A year ago, they compared his absence to losing a quarterback. Barnett is a captain and a preseason pick for all-conference honors. He is also the leader of K-State’s defense, tasked with calling out assignments for the secondary.
Losing him for the season on opening night last year was painful for the Wildcats.
“It was significant to have him back in the lineup for a lot of different reasons,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “He played well. He didn’t really have assignment errors. He supported well against the run and the pass, but I think his leadership and his guidance of his teammates was beneficial.
“He brings a degree of leadership that wasn’t as prolific last year after we lost him. Our players had that expectation of having him back and see that as a positive. They know he is a good player … and they are looking to him to perform well, which he did. It has had an impact and makes us a little bit different football team.”
Stanford beat K-State 26-13, but the Wildcats performed better than expectations on defense. A year ago, Stanford averaged 43.2 points and 489.3 yards. On Friday, K-State limited the Cardinal to 26 points and 272 yards.
K-State struggled against the pass early and McCaffrey scored on runs of 35 and 41 yards, but the Wildcats were stingy otherwise, allowing 67 yards on 20 plays in the second half. They showed promise.
“We did a good job flying around to the football,” Barnett said. “We missed a few tackles in the game that cost us, but I really liked how we flew around the whole game.”
Barnett was a big reason why K-State played so aggressively. He continually took good angles on Stanford ballcarriers and made running difficult.
That made life easier for fellow defensive backs D.J. Reed, Duke Shelley and Kendall Adams.
“It was great having Dante out there,” Adams said. “He is such a smart player.”
“He emphasizes watching film and doing all the little things right, how Coach Snyder likes,” Reed said. “He is like a big brother to me, always watching out for me and giving me pointers.”
Barnett entered K-State’s opener loaded with motivation. Watching so many games from the sideline last year felt like torture. It made him miss football. He vowed to take advantage of the NCAA’s hardship waiver that allowed him to return for a fifth season.
He was worried he might be nervous in his first game back, but the jitters disappeared during warmups. He had been here before.
“I was enthused the whole time,” Barnett said. “Just being back out there was awesome.”
Teammates followed his lead. Good things happened. K-State was glad to have him back.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett