Six months ago, Khalil Barnes was named Region 8-4A Player of the Year and had no college offers.
Now, the North Oconee defensive back is committed to play college football at the highest level for a Power 5 team.
Tuesday, Barnes verbally committed to play football at Wake Forest over offers from Purdue, Duke and others.
Barnes’ first offer came from Georgia State in mid-January and then the offers rolled in steadily from all over the country. The Demon Deacons offered the talented defensive back on June 6 and he scheduled an official visit for this past weekend. Friday night wasn’t the first time Barnes and his family visited Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
“I went up there the Friday before my official visit, I didn’t post about it,” Barnes told the Banner-Herald. “I went because I knew I had the offer and they were really interested. I was sold last week.”
The official visit was more for Barnes to learn about the town and campus, as well as continue to build a relationship with Wake’s coaching staff. It was two weeks after Barnes took an official visit to Purdue.
He took other trips to different schools across the southeast, but felt like Wake Forest was the best fit.
What stood out about the black and gold?
“They were a really good team last year and they’re going to keep building,” Barnes said. “Going to be competing in a pass-heavy conference in the ACC which is where I feel like I’ll thrive. They have a Harvard-type education where if you walk into the real world with that type of degree, you’re walking into a six-figure job. It’s bigger than football and a four-year plan decision for me.”
And one of the biggest factors: location.
“Purdue was nice, but you can’t beat that four hour drive,” he said. “We’ll be playing teams like Georgia Tech, Miami, they just started a non-conference series with Georgia State — these are places that my family can drive to and don’t have to fly on a plane to watch me play.”
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A short recruitment process
After a season that saw Barnes rack up 33 tackles, three interceptions and three tackles for loss on defense in 2021, schools began to take notice. During the spring contact period, coaches representing more than 20 programs visited Bogart — with a high interest in Barnes’ talent.
That bled through to spring practices when coaches lined the fence at the Titans’ practice field.
“(Having more coaches come through) speaks volumes to all of the programs in the area, what they’ve been able to build and then the talent that’s in this area,” head coach Tyler Aurandt said after a spring practice. “With everyone starting to push deep into the playoffs, I think people are starting to take notice and realize this is a place within our state that produces great football teams and great players.”
Barnes thanked Aurandt and the North Oconee coaching staff for helping him take a lot of the pressure of recruiting off of him.
“It’s crazy how quick it happens,” Barnes said in reference to how quickly his recruitment soared. “I’m blessed for the opportunity and the people that God put in my life to help make this a lot less stressful than it could have been. I never lost sleep over recruiting. There was a stretch where it got hard because I knew I wanted to make a decision early so I could focus on my current team and get us over that final four hump. It was smoother than some other situations I’ve heard of.
“During the school year, (Aurandt would) call me into his office and it wouldn’t even be about football most of the time,” Barnes continued. “We’d talk about life and would just tell me to make the decision knowing that I’ll be there for three or four years. Again, he just helped take a lot of the stress out of this.”
Fitting in at Wake Forest
Barnes plans to graduate in December and head to Winston-Salem in January. He hopes that’ll come after another deep playoff run in his final year with North Oconee.
When he gets there, he wants to major in sports communications and Learfield IMG, a popular sports broadcasting company, is based in Winston-Salem.
“All the opportunities are there,” Barnes said. “It’s right there in the city and that was probably my biggest takeaway was how close things are to where I want to be.”
This season, Wake Forest is looking to have another 10-win, division championship season. They’ll be using a host of veteran talent, which will be gone by the time Barnes arrives.
“I think they have six DBs leaving, either because they’re seniors or going to the NFL Draft,” Barnes said. “If I go in and do what I’m supposed to do, I could see good time early on. It’s just on me. I like what Coach (defensive coordinator Brad) Lambert does on the defense. The package they run is like the NFL, so if I get the opportunity to pursue that, I’d be used to it.”
With the commitment out of the way, Barnes wants to take time to enjoy his summer. There aren’t plans currently to go back up, but he’s sure he’ll be in Winston-Salem some this fall before moving in officially. He enjoys the hole-in-the-wall restaurants and the novelty of downtown.
But for now, he’s focused on North Oconee.
“I’m going to take a break, enjoy being a kid and just be happy with the position I’m in,” Barnes said. “I’m all Demon Deacon right now.”
More on KB1
‘We have a big family’: North Oconee football built a culture. Now it’s paying off
Playoff run: North Oconee advances to first quarterfinals in seven years behind stellar run game, stout defense
Brotherhood: The secret to North Oconee’s semifinal run? Two balanced, dynamic juniors on offense
Recruitment takes off: Trips to SEC and ACC football programs are on North Oconee star Khalil Barnes’ calendar
McClain Baxley is a recruiting reporter for the Athens Banner-Herald and the USA TODAY Network. Reach him by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @mcclainbaxley.