Deion Barnes — a star defensive end in Happy Valley from 2012-14 — keeps tabs on Penn State for a reason. Not only is he a proud alumnus, but Barnes is also a mentor to a couple Nittany Lions.
Barnes, who had 14 sacks in three seasons and left early for the NFL, knows Penn State defensive ends Shareef Miller and Shaka Toney well.
The former New York Jets linebacker and current Northeast High School assistant discussed his fellow Philadelphia natives and the Nittany Lions in this edition of “Five Questions.”
Q: How did you first get to know Shareef and Shaka?
A: I know them from Philly. I played for Shareef’s uncle when I was 14. When I went up to Penn State, I always used to watch for the younger guys that had Division I talent. His uncle hit me up and told me to give him some wisdom before he came to Penn State. I saw him a few times when he visited Penn State, and we built a relationship from there. ... With Shaka, his high school coach coached me in Little League. We knew each other from there, and when he was coming up to Penn State, he reached out to me. He asked me for advice the same way Shareef was. I talk to Shaka damn near every week about things to watch out for in the game. He comes to me more than Shareef.
Q: How proud are you of Shaka? In his first season of action, he really broke through and made some splash plays.
A: Ah man, I was definitely excited to see that. That’s kind of how I started off when I won (Big Ten) freshman of the year. It’s amazing to see what he’s doing at such a young age. His game is ridiculous. His take-off is something you can’t teach. I love watching him. I get excited every time, sitting there and watching games with my mom and watching those two play.
Q: What impresses you most about Shareef’s game?
A: It’s just his football IQ. His football IQ is on 1,000. The way he can read plays, retrace his steps and be able to hawk things down at different angles. His football IQ is just amazing.
Q: With Shaka and Shareef, do you see NFL futures for these guys?
A: They’re both going to be in the NFL. Shaka, I mean, you can get drafted in the first round for just being a great pass-rusher. Shareef has the whole package where he’s big and fast. Without a doubt they’re going to be NFL players. They’ve got to fine-tune some things and work on their flaws, but I think they’ll both be in the league soon.
Q: Shaka, Shareef and everyone else has come together the past couple years to put out double-digit win seasons. How cool is it to see how far the program has come from where you guys were?
A: Oh man, we joke about it all the time. We were the sacrificial lambs for the program to get where it is. It’s a blessing being able to brag about your team, to be able to go home and watch the games and when I was in the NFL, talk s*** to other guys who play on other Big Ten teams. It’s a breath of fresh air to see those guys playing the way they are. They’re buying into (James) Franklin and what they’re preaching. I watch the defense mostly, so I like seeing guys like Marcus Allen and Shareef and them ball. We haven’t had that in a while, with some 7-6 and 8-4 years. It’s good to see them in the national race.