New QB Barnes plans to 'stay focused'

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Versatility has never been much of a problem for Ryan Barnes.

He’s played a lot of positions, but is best known as a defensive end, who starred for the 2018 Sault Sabercats junior varsity team.

Barnes was also a defensive pillar for the Korah Colts last fall, helping the team win the city’s high school junior football championship.

For his efforts, he was named the junior loop’s most valuable lineman.

But skip ahead a few months and Barnes, a six-foot, 200-pounder, will be making his first start at quarterback on Saturday as the JV Cats open the 2019 Ontario Football Conference season.

The Sault is slated to play host to the Oakville Titans in a 1 p.m. start at Superior Heights.

“I’ve wanted to play quarterback for a long time, but I haven’t had the opportunity until this year,” said Barnes, a 16-year-old Grade 10 student.

A backup quarterback for last season’s Korah junior team, he’s also seen time at linebacker, guard, running back and is an accomplished long snapper.

But this is different.

Asked how he feels about his first OFC start at a critical position, Barnes told The Sault Star he’s “a little bit nervous.”

But he also spoke of being confident.

“I just plan to stay focused and play to the best of my ability,” Barnes added.

Cats head coach Jim Monico, whose team is coming off of a 7-1 regular season record in 2018, said his new signal caller has looked good in practice.

“The test for him will be reading defences, seeing different situations and facing adversity when things don’t work out,” the coach added. “Every quarterback throws interceptions. It’s how they deal with it that’s most important.”

However, Monico also spoke of how Barnes has a strong arm, is big, strong and can run well with the football.

He expects Barnes and running back Mike Nicoletta, who’ll operate in an ace backfield, to put pressure on the opposition.

As a Korah standout, Nicoletta was the high school junior loop’s MVP last fall.

The coach talked of how the 2019 Sabercats are running a spread offence.

“But it’s simplistic,” he added. “With a new quarterback and new players in different positions, we’re still putting things in.”

Going into Saturday’s opener, Monico said he’s liked how his team has looked at practice this week.

He expects to dress about 35 players on Saturday and is satisfied with that number.

The coach also said his team is healthy with no major injuries.

“We’re going to try to be balanced on offence,” Monico said. “On defence, we’re very athletic and we have a lot of speed. We’re young on the defensive line, but we like our defence for sure.”

Asked about the keys to the game, the Sault coach talked about getting off to a fast start, limiting mistakes and sticking to the game plan.

“We want to play our game and not get off course at all,” Monico added.