By: Omar Saulters
In the climactic moments of the third quarter during the XFL Championship Game, T.J. Barnes, a defensive lineman for the Arlington Renegades, made a statement.
He raised his right fist triumphantly, reminiscent of iconic wrestling poses. This act wasn’t just a random gesture but a tribute to his childhood hero, Dwayne Johnson, co-owner of the XFL. For Barnes, it was a moment of homage he couldn’t let pass by.
Reflecting on his journey, Barnes marveled at his transformation from where he was a year ago to his present status. The significance of his trip was underscored by his sack of D.C. Defenders’ quarterback Jordan Ta’amu during the championship game. This pivotal moment was one of several crucial defensive stops contributing to the Renegades’ 35-26 victory on May 13 at The Alamodome in San Antonio.
Following a journey marked by ups and downs, Barnes, who had an impactful season as one of the XFL’s standout interior defenders, has officially retired from professional football.
Barnes’ post-college career saw him participating in NFL games with teams like the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, and Kansas City Chiefs. After a hiatus from football, he returned to play in spring football leagues, first with the Atlanta Legends of the AAF in 2019, and later with the New York Guardians in 2020. Subsequently, he spent a significant period away from the sport, dabbling in various jobs while considering retirement.
Tragedy struck with the passing of Barnes’ best friend, Bryant McGowan, a fellow college football player. McGowan’s death profoundly impacted Barnes, and his perspective shifted when he received an invitation to the XFL Draft on the day of McGowan’s funeral. This event marked a turning point, motivating Barnes to consider a return to football.
At the time of the XFL Draft, Barnes was overweight, but an encouraging call from Renegades co-defensive coordinator Jay Hayes ignited a change in mindset. After intense determination and dedicated weight loss efforts, Barnes shed 68 pounds, arriving at XFL Training Camp transformed and ready to contribute.
Despite interest from NFL teams after the XFL season, Barnes has decided to embrace a new chapter in his life. He is now based in Charlotte, North Carolina, with his wife and daughters. As a full-time father, husband, and software developer, he cherishes the increased time he can spend with his family.
His journey, spanning a decade from an undrafted NFL rookie to an XFL Champion, culminated in a rewarding victory that Barnes holds dear.
Featured Image via Thomas Campbell/XFL