GT's T.J. Barnes slims down, ready to start

During winter workouts and spring practices, Georgia Tech senior defensive end Izaan Cross and senior nose tackle T.J. Barnes stuck to what they called the “Firehouse diet.” After weighing in on Wednesdays, the linemen would walk up the street to Firehouse Subs and celebrate their weight loss for that week.

Despite the weekly indulgence of a foot-long sub, bag of chips and a soda, Barnes said he lost between 25-30 pounds since last season -- and he’s still the biggest guy on the team at 6-foot-7, 342 pounds. Barnes is the most experienced nose tackle returning to a defensive line that must replace two starters from last season’s 3-4 scheme. He is expected to become a full-time starter for the first time in his career this fall after being the backup to Logan Walls. Barnes said his weight loss has helped him prepare for his new role.

“I’m already starting to see the game slow down for me,” he said. “It’s a lot easier, from me taking steps, to me just not being as tired as everybody else in the latter part of the game. It’s helped me in all different types of aspects.”

Georgia Tech’s defense was No. 60 in the country last season in scoring defense at 26.08 points per game, and was No. 66 in rushing defense and No. 44 in total defense -- averaging in the lower half of the ACC. If the Jackets are going to improve in the third season under coordinator Al Groh, the linemen will have to adjust to their new responsibilities quickly.

“It’s not much of a concern, because we’ve all had our roles in the past few years,” Barnes said. “We’ve been around each other a lot and used to room together. We have a lot of chemistry, so there’s really no worries between us. We just believe in each other and that we’re going to get the job done."

Barnes is tied with teammate Rod Sweeting with the most career games played (39) of any returning player. Last season he had 11 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and one sack. Barnes said in order for the defense to improve, the players have to start believing in each other. He said the entire team has been building good chemistry this offseason.

“Right now the sky is the limit,” he said. “It just depends on how good we want to be, really. If we put in the work this summer, we’ll see the results this fall.”