When Isaiah Barnes streaks through
a hole or threads the needle with a scoring pass, you can be sure that some Freeport fan will elbow the guy next to him and say, "You know, he's only 16."
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Most students of Barnes' age are entering their junior -- or even sophomore -- years in high school. But the Freeport quarterback skipped kindergarten. And now he enters the 2011 season as a 6-3, 195-pound senior, and a force to be reckoned with.
Instead of frustrating the rest of Nassau I for the next two years, burning defensive backs for first downs and scoring touchdowns, the opposition gets off easy.
"They didn't know when I was 5 years old and two-foot nothing that I was going to grow like this," he said.
Besides blossoming physically, he's grown into a double-threat on the field, equally able to hurt teams with his legs or his arm. And he's grown into the role of quarterback mentally.
An "A" student with a full slate of advanced placement classes, Barnes has gone to school this year on his passing game.
"Last year I was definitely more of a runner and I liked that, but this year it's more even," he said. "If I can fit the pass through a window, that's better than juking somebody. Maybe not to the fans, but to me, that's what I like."
In a game that would have made his hero proud, Barnes ran for six touchdowns and threw for another in a 62-35 win over Floyd in last season's Long Island Championship.
Though that may be his most impressive statement so far, both Barnes and Freeport coach Russ Cellan point to the Oct. 30 regular-season finale against Oceanside as Barnes' breakout game. Freeport was down 21-0 in the second half and fell behind 28-7 in the third quarter.
"We had been used to having our way running the ball with most teams, but they just loaded the box up and we just couldn't run," Cellan said.
The only way to loosen up the defense was to integrate more pass plays, and Barnes took over, putting the Oceanside defense on its heels. With Oceanside now protecting against the pass, the run game got back on track.
"He led through the whole thing," Cellan said. "His demeanor, the way he carried himself on the field. He never got frazzled. He got us through that game."
For his part, Barnes said he never felt the pressure.
"People say 'Oh all the pressures on you,' " he said. "But I don't think about the pressure. I just think about it like we're in the street just playing some football, just having fun. Football's a fun sport when you do it right."
Cellan recalls the first time he realized what Barnes could be. Barnes was a sophomore who lost his shot to take over the quarterback role late in the season. During the waning minutes of a blowout game, the rookie was called on.
"He ran a couple of read plays, took off down the field and juked some guys," Cellan said. "And he was playing against good people. He made some plays at the end of the game and we saw that he wanted the ball. That he wanted to make a play. That's when we kind of knew this guy's got a shot.
"Until the bullets start flying, you're really not sure if the guy's for real or not, but he certainly was."
Think of what he could do with another year.