PISCATAWAY, NJ – At the start of training camp for the Rutgers football team at the beginning of August, there were a few notable position changes. But none were more eye opening and drastic than redshirt freshman Elijah Barnwell switching from offense to defense, from running back to linebacker.
Barnwell, a Piscataway native and Class of 2017 Piscataway High School graduate, was slated to be either the fifth or sixth running back on the depth chart this season for the Scarlet Knights, and two of the backs ahead of him are sophomores and one is a freshman. A number of things would have needed to happen for him to see playing time on offense.
However, at linebacker, particularly the strongside (SAM) position where Barnwell moved to, two players aren’t with the team as they are believed to be in connection with the ongoing credit card fraud investigations. One of those SAM linebackers just recently announced that he received his transfer papers as well.
So, with the SAM position now being thin, Barnwell saw the opportunity, left his familiar post at running back, and went to the coaches himself and asked if he could switch to linebacker to help out the team. Head coach Chris Ash was all for the move and praised Barnwell’s decision on the first day of camp.
"We moved Elijah Barnwell from offense to defense," Ash said of Barnwell, who stands at 5-foot-11, and 208-pounds. "He was also a defensive player in high school and did a nice job. He's a real physical kid and his highlight film as a defensive player was pretty impressive.
“He actually came to us and asked us if he could move. It was a very selfless move. It's all about the team for him and finding a role where he can help us this year. He's coming off an ACL (injury) and we've got quite a few guys at running back and he saw an opportunity to help our football team on the defensive side. He approached us which was great."
Toby Neinas, Barnwell’s new position coach, mentioned that he still has some learning to do at the hybrid linebacker/safety spot, but was really happy about his mature decision to come on board to defense.
“Yeah, I loved that,” Neinas said. “You always want to go where you’re wanted. It’s like the song ‘Where everybody knows your name’. You want to go where you’re wanted but you also need to want to be there and the fact that he requested it means a lot. I still don’t totally know what I have there with him because I’m trying to rep some so much that I’ve had to shorten Elijah’s reps.
“He appears to be highly intelligent and has done well when he’s been in there, but just hasn’t had the number of opportunities yet. But, I’m happy so far.”
Fellow young linebacker, sophomore Tyshon Fogg, offered some quick thoughts on Barnwell as well.
“He’s been doing great. Elijah is just a ballhawk and is a guy who always goes hard and has a knack for the ball,” Fogg said of Barnwell, who made a few stops at the line of scrimmage on screen plays and caused a fumble a week ago in practice. “He’s a guy who’s going to compete and get better each and every day. He’ll be a guy to look out for when the season comes up.”
At PHS, Barnwell shattered numerous offensive records including career rushing yards (5,728), rushing touchdowns (75), and carries (792). On defense in his senior season with the Chiefs in 2016, Barnwell made 49 tackles, including eight tackles-for-loss, with five passes defended, interception and a sack at linebacker.
He capped his career with a NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 5 sectional title as well.
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