Dante Barnett knows what you expect him to say.
After quietly making 176 tackles and seven interceptions alongside touted defenders such as Arthur Brown, Ty Zimmerman and Ryan Mueller during his first three seasons at Kansas State, Barnett, a senior strong safety, has recently emerged as the face of K-State’s defense. He is up for five national awards, he is a preseason all-conference member and he is the leader of an experienced secondary.
You expect him to be giddy about all of it, his opportunity to finally step into the spotlight. Yet, he says the opposite.
“I really try not to think about stuff like that,” Barnett said Monday at Big 12 Media Days. “I try not to think about individual awards. I am focused on getting the team ready for fall practices. If I get caught up in all those accolades and stuff I may end up hurting the team. I mean, they are preseason awards.”
That attitude is a big reason why many expect Barnett to have a big senior season. But he will need to keep a level head all year long in order to reach his goals.
True, he is coming off his finest year in a K-State uniform, making 77 tackles, defending 11 passes and picking off three balls, but he also dropped a handful of potential interceptions and was the victim of the occasional deep ball. He played well, but not exactly great.
Can he make the leap?
“It is good that someone appreciates some of the things I have done and people expect great things out of me this season,” Barnett said. “So I will go out there and show that I can do a lot of the things they think I can do.”
K-State corner Morgan Burns thinks he can lead the secondary to new heights.
“I’m excited to play next to him,” Burns said. “I haven’t heard him talk one time about being all Big 12 or trying to get this award. He doesn’t really get caught up in that. He is all about the team.”
Perhaps that is part of the reason why this season feels different for Barnett. In past years there was always someone else to lean on or ask for help. Now he is the guy everyone else looks to. It’s been nearly three years since he was forced into the starting lineup as a freshman against Baylor while Zimmerman sat out with an injury, but it feels like much longer.
“When I look back at film of that game I just say, ‘Wow,’ I can’t believe that is me,” Barnett said. “I looked so skinny back then. To see me now, I know I have grown as a player.”
K-State coach Bill Snyder agrees. Throughout the summer, Snyder has congratulated Barnett for making watch lists, telling him he deserves the recognition.
He hopes it will fuel Barnett to play up to those expectations.
“He is a young guy who I think will do exactly that,” Snyder said. “I think he cares more about the accomplishments of his collective team and his teammates than he does about his own. I have great appreciation for that. There’s a humility there. Dante is a very confident young guy, and I appreciate that a great deal. But by the same token, humility is part of his makeup, and I appreciate that a great deal as well … He’s been a fine player.”
He is ready to be a great player. That means spending more and more time working with teammates after practices and more and more time leading on the field. He is up for the challenge.
Others expect a lot out of him this season, but he expects a lot from himself and K-State’s defense.
“There is no ceiling to how good we can be,” Barnett said. “I have noticed we have a lot of speed on defense. Now we have to put on the pads and go prove it.”