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Nick Barnett Walks Away from Pack

July 27th, 2011 · 3 Comments · Football

You reach a certain age, and “man, that makes me feel old” no longer comes up. A hundred things every day make you feel old.

But the end of Nick Barnett’s career with the Green Bay Packers represents the completion of a sports cycle, the opening stages of which I noticed not all that long ago. In 1997 or 1998, in Fontana, California.

The basics of the Barnett-Packers news story are almost cliche. Guy getting up in years. Been hurt a couple of times. Makes too much money. Club tells him he’s going to be waived.

But I knew this guy, as a player, way back when.

This is what I remember:

Nick Barnett played for John Tyree at AB Miller High School in Fontana.

Miller was the second high school in Fontana, back when the city was a football hotbed. The first high school was named after the city and coached by Dick Bruich, and Fontana won one of those theoretical (but still prized) national championships, in 1987. And they had a great rivalry with Miller there for a few years.

The Miller team in 1998 (and I’m pretty sure it was ’98; could have been ’97) was loaded. About seven, maybe eight blue-chip skill players.

Let’s see how many I can remember. Kid named Allen Flores played quarterback. Jeff McGarrity played fullback. Lamar Anderson was the breakaway threat in the backfield, and Justin Colbert could run and catch.

Miller had some other good guys. They also had Nick Barnett, at tight end and linebacker. (Or was it safety?)

They scored tons of points and went 9-1 in the regular season. They beat Eisenhower but lost to Fontana, and the three of them tied for the Citrus Belt League title.

What was interesting about Miller was … the average fan could discuss “who is their best guy?” and come up with all sorts of answers. McGarrity. Flores. Anderson. Maybe Colbert.

I remember asking John Tyree, the banty rooster who coached the team and one hell of a football man: “Who is your best guy?” And he surprised me by saying, “Nick Barnett.” Who was always listed with their “leading players include” … but usually sixth or seventh on the list.

But the coach was right. Barnett was his best player.

Several of the guys on that team went on to play in college, but it was Barnett who stood out, at Oregon State, and it was Barnett who was drafted in the first round by Green Bay in 2003.

He played there for eight seasons, at inside linebacker, and was their best defensive player, arguably, for about half of those eight seasons.

As you saw in the ESPN story, Barnett is handling the Packers’ rejection with class. He thanked the club for bringing him there. He thanked the fans. No bitterness there, though he certainly had the right to be unhappy. The way the NFL tosses aside guys when it’s done with them is harsh.

Anyway.

Late in the 1998 season, Nick Barnett was injured. A shoulder maybe? He missed the last few Miller games. In the first round of the large-schools playoffs, Miller was shocked by one of the parochial schools. Los Angeles Loyola, maybe. Or Anaheim Servite.

As Nick Barnett’s career moved along, I often wondered if Miller would have made a deep run in the 1998 playoffs had Barnett been healthy. I imagine John Tyree and Barnett’s high school teammates have wondered the same thing. Talking about playing without an NFL-caliber two-way guy.

He may still have a bit more of a career, if he can catch on with someone else. But things happen fast, when you’re 30 in the NFL. He could be done. And it seems like just the other day he was starting.

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3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 bobbie taylor // Feb 27, 2014 at 9:39 am

    Don’t forget about Jeremiah Cockheran the second player from A.B. Miller to go to the NFL and was the fastest on the team 4.26 in the 40 played wide out. Barnett, Colbert, Cockheran, Anderson all great guys have their name in the school gym.

  • 2 John Tyree // Dec 18, 2016 at 7:22 pm

    I don’t know if he was the best player on the team, but he was, & is the most competitive player I have coached in 53 years. J. Tyree, Head Football coach, Calexico High School.

  • 3 Mervyn ONeil // Apr 25, 2017 at 9:32 pm

    It was Loyola that beat up. Remember the game like it was yesterday. I played safety on that team, and OJ Hacket, Shaheed Richardson and my other teammates were pretty good too. What I remember most vividly is that our starting quarterback Alan Flores RIP did not play in that game either nor did he, like Nick, play against Fohi, a game which we lost 30-28. Both Flores and Barnett were sidelined due to injuries they sustained in our lopsided victory against Rialto.

    Don’t know if we would have won if those two had played. Hell, probably wouldn’t have even played them in the first round. Just wanted to mention my recollection. And also to wish Couch Tyree good luck. Wonderful to see you still making it happen. Love that 42 counter, and split back veer.

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