There is a little extra motivation this year for Jets linebacker Antwan Barnes, who is playing for his friend and former teammate, Chandler Williams.
Williams passed away suddenly in early January during a flag football game, reportedly from a heart attack. The death shook Barnes hard as he had become friends with Williams in high school in Miami while they played against each other. Their friendship was further strengthened during college when both players attended FIU together.
Barnes was in Las Vegas at the time of his friend’s death and he knew something was wrong when his mother called him. He quickly changed his plans and flew back to Florida.
“He was the most in-shape guy you will ever meet,” Barnes said. “He was the kind of guy who could go through practice then play a couple pickup games of basketball with no problem, not even being tired. Then hearing that, it makes you think to watch out for everything and get yourself checked out.”
Their friendship lasted even after they both moved on from FIU. Barnes is in the midst of a solid career and just signed with the Jets this offseason. Williams enjoyed a brief NFL career and was in the Arena Football League last season. Their mothers were close as well and the two friends would often talk on the phone and offer “words of encouragement to each other.” The bond he felt was closer than with any other player.
During the fourth day of training camp for the Jets on Monday, Barnes wore a T-shirt underneath his jersey and pads that read “I Am My Brother’s Keeper” with Williams’s name at the bottom. There was a photo of Williams with the wings of an eagle behind him. He wore a similar shirt on Sunday as well.
There is a determination guiding Barnes this year with the Jets. It isn’t his motivation to prove a point on the field or a bigger contract but the fact he is now playing not only for himself, but also for his friend.
He has been a standout performer in training camp, showing very good instincts and a willingness to play physical football. The Jets have revamped their linebackers this year and Barnes has looked like a key part of the unit through four practices.
“Pretty much me, playing for him. I know how much he loved the game football,” Barnes said. “I see myself playing, giving my all for him.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer for live updates from training camp.