There have been many great OUA debuts in Gryphon Football history. But rookie receiver Clark Barnes may have cemented himself up there with the best of them. The first-year Brampton, ON native introduced himself to the Canadian university football world in stunning fashion, reaching the house for a stunning 100-yard kickoff return touchdown on the very first touch of the ball in the season opener against McMaster.


Beginner’s luck? Not even close. Barnes would not only duplicate that feat the next week but actually top the huge play by running the opening kickoff back 106 yards to open the scoring in Guelph’s 37-20 road win over the Carleton Ravens. And just to show that neither of those “Play of the Year” candidates was fluky, the 6’2” 200-pound Arts major would also hit pay dirt in Week 3 of the regular season during the Gryphons’ 53-19 dismantling of York with another shocking 82-yard kick return.

Three games, three return TDs. Not even the most optimistic rookie in U SPORTS could have hoped for more.

“I’ve had a start that could have never imagined,” says Barnes, who also added a 30-yard touchdown reception in the win over York. “I didn’t even know if I was going to be playing football this year at all, then all of the sudden I’m out there scoring touchdowns and having some of the most fun I’ve ever had on a football field.”

This early success that Barnes has experienced isn’t good fortune. The rookie attributes much of it to his special teams coach Donovan Carter and the energetic teammates in his unit.

“Coach does a great job setting our return game up every week so that we can go out there, take advantage of the other team’s weaknesses and execute,” says Barnes. “He’s the mastermind behind it all and I give all the credit to him and my teammates blocking in front of me. I’m just the guy running with the ball, really. 

“The first touchdown against Mac was pretty cool. I remember running after I broke free and I was just in shock. I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m really running to the end zone right now!’ I don’t even think I was ready for that but it was an amazing feeling, probably one of the best of my football career.”

Barnes also deserves a ton of praise for being prepared right out of the gate. That is in part due to the strict routine he and his teammates have had once training camp got under way. It’s no easy feat balancing school life with the intense daily routine but any Gryphon who wants to suit up on game day has to put in the time.

It all began in the August heat with a training camp that isn’t for the faint of heart:

-           6:30 am breakfast at the Pavilion

-           7:30 am unit meetings

-           8:30 am practice

-           11:30 am lunch at Creelman

-           12:15 pm treatments

-           2:30 special teams meetings

-           3:00 pm offence/defence meetings

-           4:00 pm practice


“We would then finish up, shower, hit the ice tubs again, and head over for dinner by around 6:30 to get some more food in us to finish the day off,” Barnes says of the intense days at camp. “Then it was off to the Pavilion for the last meetings starting at 7:30 pm. We’d usually get a team meeting briefly just to check in after a long day at work then get into specials by 7:45 and O/D again at 8:15 one last time for install.

“We went through the new plays for the next day and made sure that we’re ready to do it all again in the morning.”

Once the season got underway, the football schedule slowed down a bit, though academics then become a huge priority. Classes for players are typically wrapped up by 3:30 pm so the football component of the day can begin. Barnes has classes at 11:00 am and 1 pm from Monday through Thursday, in addition to a couple online courses.

Rookies also have to find time to report to the Student-Athlete Mentorship Program (SAM) in the library for three hours a week, which is designed to help them stay on top of the school workload.

Then it’s back to football:

-           3:45 pm special teams meetings, followed by O and D meetings

-           5:30 pm practice

-           8:00 pm dinner


There really isn’t a ton of time for Barnes to relax and he likes to spend his free moments either going over plays or catching up with friends. It can be a grind but that’s the price these dedicated student-athletes have to pay in order to show what they can do on the field once the weekend comes around.

And it’s worth it, as the rookie has proven through an incredible first month of his OUA career.

“Being able to go out there on game day and execute everything you worked so hard for through training camp and those late-night meetings and early mornings, just to feel all that come together beats everything,” says Barnes, who wasn’t even sure what role he would have as a rookie in a program with a new regime. “It’s a special feeling and it makes everything a lot easier going through the year because now you can see what you’re doing all of this for.

“It’s not just guys going out there and making a play. It’s many long days of early mornings, late nights, hard work, and game planning that go into each and every play. That’s where all the joy comes from in the players and coaches after every touchdown, sack, interception, or special-teams play.

“Then all of the sudden, the stuff you didn’t enjoy about the process goes right out the door.”

written by: david dicenzo