By Will Vandervort
CLEMSON, SC — As he waited for the tram to take him back to the WestZone following Tuesday night’s practice, Clemson defensive end Tavaris Barnes sat and thought about how much his life has changed in the last year.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” he said. “A lot of things have happened. Those things have tested me, but I have grown from it all and I have persevered.”
Since last football season, Barnes has had to overcome a lot as a student-athlete and as a man.
On the football field he has had to deal with the challenges of adjusting to a new defensive coordinator, a new system and a position move for the second time in three years.
Off the field, life has been much more challenging.
In April, the week leading up to the Tigers’ annual spring game, the 6-foot-4, 270-pound end learned his brother, Gary Tinsley, who played linebacker at the University of Minnesota, died from an enlarged heart.
“The last time I saw Gary was in Florida during spring break. He told me it was my time. It was time for me to step up,” Barnes said. “Anytime I had a problem, I could call him. He had been through the same things I have. He would tell me to push through it, and that I could do it.
“It was my time. I took those words to heart.”
Barnes especially took those words to heart a few weeks later.
While trying to get over the death of his brother, Barnes’ wife Shadarrell went into premature labor, giving birth to their son, Tavaris Barnes, Jr., 24 weeks into her pregnancy. But due to bleeding on the brain and an undeveloped respiratory system, their baby boy lost his fight and died at two days old.
“When things happen in your life, you can’t question God,” Barnes said. “When my son died, I said, ‘God I’m not going to curse you.’ He knows everything. God has a plan. I want God to bless me. I know my son isn’t here because he is supposed to be with him right now.
“God has everything in control. I’m going to follow him. I’m going to fulfill God’s purpose for me, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
To understand how much Barnes has grown since the deaths of his son and brother, one only needs to ask his mother, Tinisha Young.
Ms. Young has always been by her son’s side. Last year, when Barnes was having issues with his grades and other football matters, she moved from her hometown of Jacksonville, Fla., to Clemson to help him.
“My mom is my biggest fan,” Barnes said. “She has always been there to help me.”
Young was there for him as they dealt with their losses. But as Barnes started to rededicate himself to his faith, he knew that he was going to have to do this on his own. He knew he had to become his own man.
“My mom is great,” he said. “But there comes a time in a man’s life when he has to grow up, when he has to start becoming a man and realize he can’t lean on his mother for everything. That’s something I learned I had to do for myself.
“I had to grow up. I can’t put all of my burdens on my mom.”
Knowing her son is in a good place again spiritually and athletically, Young has since moved back to Jacksonville, and will of course come up for game days to cheer him and the rest of the Tigers on.
As for Barnes, he says he is “all-in” not just for Clemson football, but for life.
“I give all the praise to God,” Barnes said. “It’s amazing how he turned my life around. I went from not focused at all to being totally focused and locked in. I have bought into Coach (Dabo) Swinney’s program about being all-in.
“That’s what it takes. You have to be ‘all-in’ all the time.”
For his part, Swinney says he’s seen the change in Barnes as well.
“I really saw Tavaris starting to make some progress before that stuff happened,” Swinney said. “But, certainly with some of the tragedy that he’s had to deal with, I think that has brought a perspective to him that he didn’t have.
“I’m very encouraged by what I’ve seen out of Tavaris Barnes. … He’s got three years (of eligibility) left, and he is as talented a guy as we have.”