PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- When he was a senior at Piscataway High School, Elijah Barnwell flipped and committed to play college football at Rutgers instead of Buffalo just a couple of short days before National Signing Day in 2017.

He chose the hometown university, which is located a mere five minutes away, for the opportunity to play in the Big Ten Conference.

But since then, things haven’t gone as planned. During training camp of his freshman season, the running back tore his ACL and redshirted. Last season, he made the choice himself to make the move to linebacker to provide depth, but ended up playing in just one game on special teams.

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A week into fall camp, No. 7 Barnwell chatted with TAPinto Piscataway after practice on Thursday afternoon. Though he’s still young - he’s only a redshirt sophomore - he doesn’t want to spend any more time on the sideline. And he feels like his time is coming.

“I think this year will be different,” said Barnwell on Thursday, who is now back at running back.

Thursday’s practice was held inside the newly-named SHI Stadium in Piscataway, which adds extra juice and energy to the players and coaches.

“I always love practicing in the stadium,” Barnwell said. “It always makes it feel like gameday. It gives you an idea of the environment when Saturdays come around. It’s always exciting. Guys were flying around.”

And speaking of Saturdays and the stadium, the Scarlet Knights held a scrimmage for Fan Appreciation Day today.

“That’s always exciting. The fans are going to give us energy,” Barnwell said a few days before the inter-squad event. “I’m looking forward to performing in front of people and show that the opportunities I’m getting now and how I can possibly affect this Rutgers team.”

As of now, Barnwell is getting reps with the twos as Raheem Blackshear, who led the team in both rushing and receiving in 2018, and Isaih Pacheco, are ahead of him. Rutgers also brought in two talented freshmen, Aaron Young and Kay’Ron Adams, but Barnwell is doing his best to stand out.

During the scrimmage, Barnwell did earn reps with the first team, though.

“Awesome. He’s been awesome,” Rutgers running backs coach Kolby Smith said. “His pad level is low. He’s patient on runs. His vision is there. He has quick feet in the hole and he’s been accelerating more.”

As a Chief at PHS, Barnwell tallied a school-record 5,728 rushing yards with 75 touchdowns on the ground. As a senior, he helped the team win the Central Jersey, Group 5 sectional title and he finished with 1,898 rushing yards and 30 scores. Barnwell received plenty of accolades that year including being named First Team All-State, First Team All-Group 5, and All-County and Greater Middlesex Conference Football Player of the Year by The Star-Ledger. Barnwell was also picked for the 2016 All-Metro Football First Team by MSG Varsity, First Team All-Area on offense by the Home News Tribune, and was a First Team All-State selection by USA Today.

His numbers and awards speak for themselves.

So what does the 5-foot-11, 209-pounder think he needs to do to make the jump up to ensure some type of role on offense in 2019?

“I think I need to be consistent,” Barnwell said. “Every day, I need to come out here and be consistent and have more goods than negatives. I have to show that I can play at this level and show that I can play with the ones and on gameday.”

It’ll be a challenge, but Barnwell is up for the task. After playing at about 205 pounds last season, he hopes to put on a few more healthy pounds the rest of the month.

“It helps with the pounding you get at running back from all the tackles that pile up on your body from running the ball,” Barnwell said of the extra weight. “This is a very physical game, especially in the Big Ten. You want to have more muscle mass to endure the contact.”

During the remainder of camp, Barnwell will be competing against arguably the best position group on the team for carries.

“The running back room is definitely very competitive and talented,” Barnwell said. “Everybody brings something different to the table. Everybody has their own skillsets, the way they run, and their style. It’s exciting to be out here competing with those guys. It’s fun.”

Aside from offense, Barnwell is also getting looks on special teams.

“Coach (Chris) Ash always says we have to embrace it. He puts the best players on special teams. It’s important and I’m glad to be a part of it,” Barnwell.

Another former Chief, Elorm Lumor, is the starting hybrid linebacker/defensive end JACK on defense for the Scarlet Knights, and Barnwell said he’s glad Lumor is there with him and always enjoys when younger players at PHS visit them at practice.

“The guys from the team come here to see us and they’re excited to see one of theirs on this stage at this program,” Barnwell said. “It motivates them to do the same.”

Barnwell was able to capture a state title as a senior, and it was a few years before the Chiefs were back on top in 2018 when they won the first-ever North Jersey, Group 5 Bowl Game and went undefeated with a perfect 13-0 record.

“It was definitely exciting to read about it and watch it and see guys that were there when I was there excel, be successful, carry the name the right way, and continue to be dominant,” Barnwell said.

TAPintoPiscataway.net is an online newspaper serving the Township of Piscataway.

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