The fairytale 2022 college football campaign is over, and a new era of Tulane Green Wave football begins Saturday with one of the earliest spring games on the calendar. As a new cast replaces departed stars, freshman running back Arnold Barnes has his sights set on emulating NFL-bound Tulane talent, Tyjae Spears.
Arnold Barnes Sets Sights on Emulating Former Tulane RB Tyjae Spears
As Tulane begins the defense of their AAC title, the Green Wave are tasked with replacing 1,581 rushing yards and 19 rushing touchdowns — the production that follows standout playmaker Spears to the NFL. Spears was the beating heart of an offense that went toe-to-toe with the Caleb Williams-led USC Trojans and emerged victorious.
How do you even begin to consider filling the shoes, replacing the production, of one of college football’s brightest stars?
Well, it helps when you can bring in a true freshman with 1,722 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns on his senior high school résumé. Barnes, a New Orleans native, heads to Tulane from Booker T. Washington as a man on a mission during his first season at the CFB level.
That mission is to emulate Spears.
“Watching him, he’s a very impressive guy,” Barnes told WGNO-TV during spring camp. “He set the standard here for having great backs. Coming in as a freshman, I want to do better than he did coming in. That guy was the truth, can’t take anything away from him, but it’s our time.”
That might sound like an unrealistic expectation. However, Barnes has been more than meeting every expectation of himself and the Tulane coaching staff since arriving on campus.
His speed and burst from a frame that looks college football-ready despite only just emerging from high school is already attracting attention, something that Barnes touched on with reporters.
“For my size, I think people thought I was going to be more of an inside guy. But, I’ve got that breakaway speed, and I think that brought a shock to a lot of people. Having that breakaway speed, it adds on to my ability. I can break open-field tackles. No one can get me from the backside. It’s great having those type of abilities.”
It might seem brash or even arrogant to some for Barnes to talk about emulating a player who will go down in Tulane folklore. Yet, the cheeky, smiling, demeanor, with which he composes himself in front of the media just weeks out of high school, smacks more of sincere belief in his own ability than disrespect.
A three-star recruit, Barnes’ high school career has instilled the belief in his own ability. In his insanely productive final season at Booker T. Washington, he often looked like a man amongst boys.
No game was that more apparent than the September win over Ehret, where he tallied six total touchdowns and rushed for 381 yards. There were other standout games too. On just 12 carries against St. Amant, Barnes rushed for 202 yards and two touchdowns. The potential to take over a game is palpable.
He’s a 5’10”, 225-pound wrecking ball who isn’t at Tulane simply to make up the numbers. Even before signing his national letter of intent in December, he told Crescent City Sports that “I think I can compete there and be a starter as a freshman.”
Meeting with the media during Tulane’s spring practice, he reaffirmed that belief. Barnes has enrolled early at the program in order to maximize his potential for playing time as a true freshman. He’s been on campus a while, and he’s ready to roll.
“Part of the reason why I enrolled early is so I can get the plays down in spring so that in fall camp, I’m already used to it. I feel like I can compete this year as a freshman.”
Barnes isn’t the only one that believes he can play this year.
Although Iverson Celestine and Shaadie Clayton return and have an experience advantage ahead of the Tulane Spring Game, Green Wave head coach Willie Fritz told reporters that “he’s competing right now to get carries as a running back.”
Barnes’ journey to Tulane has been longer than the two miles that separate Booker T. Washington High School from Yulman Stadium, where he’ll suit up for the Green Wave as one of the standout storylines to watch in Saturday’s spring game.
Having originally committed to Tulane, Barnes had his head turned by Nebraska and interim head coach Mickey Joseph and was set on crossing the country to Lincoln as a member of the Cornhuskers’ 2023 recruiting class.
Yet, the change of coaching staff soured that relationship, and the one that had been forged through multiple in-person visits from Fritz convinced him that home was where the heart is.
Tulane wanted Barnes, and now he wants to be great for the Green Wave. That path to emulating one of the greatest running backs to play for the program starts Saturday at Yulman Stadium.