PISCATAWAY, NJ - TAPinto Piscataway went one-on-one with Piscataway native, Elijah Barnwell at Rutgers football media day this past Sunday. In an interview with Chris Nalwasky, Barnwell discussed his progress at training camp and coming back from a torn ACL.
He also explained how he hopes to see more playing time now that he’s switched from offense to defense, adding that he’s ready for the opportunity.
You may find the full interview here.
Chris Nalwasky: So, how is training camp going so far about a little over a week in now?
Elijah Barnwell: “Training camp is going alright. I’m still trying to learn and digest the new position, but I think I’m getting pretty comfortable with it. I just need to keep working on things, keep proving that I belong and prove that I deserve to play. I just need to keep working hard.”
CN: What’s different between this training camp this year compared to last year as a freshman when you were just coming in?
EB: “Last training camp I definitely had to adjust to a lot. I wasn’t used to being busy from 6:00 a.m. to the end of the night. This year, I’m more comfortable and I know what to expect and I’m more focused and into it more and it’s not as difficult as it was last year.”
CN: I know you moved to linebacker recently from running back, Coach Ash said you came to him and the coaches and wanted to do it? What went into that decision to switch?
EB: “I just thought it was the best opportunity for me to possibly see the field at an earlier time. I also played the same position in high school, so I knew I was going to be comfortable there. There were some new techniques I had to learn to play at this level, but I knew it was something I could possibly play and be effective yet.”
CN: For the past two years now that I’ve covered you and gotten to know you from high school to now, you’ve always been a running first and foremost, was it bittersweet just moving to defense?
EB: “Moving to defense, it wasn’t too big of a decision. It didn’t mess with me too much even though I basically played running back my whole life. I mean, I love scoring and stuff, but I wanted to do what was best for the team and what was best for me also. I think I can play on the other side of the ball and be a good player.”
CN: Earlier today, I was talking with Coach Neinas about you and the other SAM linebackers and how you fit. What do you think you do best at in playing the strongside position?
EB: “I would say both zone and man-to-man coverage and my run support is pretty solid, but it could get better. I feel like that’s my strength at the SAM position.”
CN: Last week, you made some plays in practice on defense and caused and recovered a fumble. Did it feel good to be able to do that again for the first time in over a year?
EB: “Yeah, it felt good to make plays. The SAM position is definitely designed in our defense to make as many of those types of plays as possible. It’s the same position I played in high school and I just need to continue to work hard, be focused and dialed in and I’ll be pretty good at it.”
CN: Tyreek Maddox-Williams, he started a bunch of games at the SAM in 2016 as a freshman and he’s most likely going to be the starter this year even after missing all of last season with a torn ACL as well like you. Have you kind of tried to pick his brain a little bit lately now you’re playing at the same position?
EB: “Of course. If you didn’t know, Tyreek’s my roommate in the hotel and he’s a guy who had the same injury as me last year and around the same time, too. We had to go through our full recovery together basically, so he’s always been a guy I’ve been around and learned from. I was just talking to him the other day and he was just schooling me on the little stuff and how to stay positive. He’s a great guy and he knows what he’s doing. He’s a great leader and is someone I definitely learn from a lot.”
CN: There’s a couple weeks left yet of training camp, but what do you maybe foresee your role on the field being this year?
EB: “They definitely have me on special teams, but I’m definitely trying to see the field at some point this year (on defense). I’m working at it. They got me right now with the twos and threes. Like you said, Tyreek’s the starter, but people get tired and you never know what’s going to happen. If (defensive coordinator) Coach (Jay) Niemann throws me out there and if Neinas gives me an opportunity I’m going to be ready. I just have stay ready and keep that mindset.”
CN: As a whole, how good can this defense be this year with a lot of experience returning?
EB: “I think our defense is going to shock a lot of people this year. We have a lot of veterans and experienced players. They’re all focused and know what they want this year. They’re disciplined and Coach Niemann enforces that and he’s a great coach.”
CN: Switching gears a little bit, Piscataway High School is right down the road, a number of guys have moved on to play here at Rutgers from there, how awesome is it being able to be here and play at home?
EB: “It feels great and it feels even better when I’m representing my town the right now. (Defensive end) Elorm (Lumor) is already doing it for us and I just want to be another guy to say I’m representing my school and town the right way.”
CN: Yeah, I’m glad you mentioned Elorm. How cool is it to have a former teammate at PHS here with you as well?
EB: “It’s great because even when I was in high school, Elorm was doing some inside recruiting and always wanted me to come to Rutgers with him. It’s funny how it played out with me getting the offer and he was excited when I got here. He’s a guy that I played with in high school and I’m playing with again. I wish him all the best, too.
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