Kenjon Barner's back-and-forth with Pats eased by Patrick Chung bond

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Running back Kenjon Barner has had a back-and-forth start to his New England Patriots tenure.

He was originally signed Sept. 12, but released seven days later. Then he was signed again Sept. 26, before being released Oct. 4. And now he’s back again, signed on Oct. 8.

That type of yo-yo-type existence can be tough on players, but Barner has made an impression on coach Bill Belichick with how he’s handled the situation as the team manages its roster to account for depth concerns in other areas.

“He’s handled it well, a very professional guy,” Belichick said. “He prepares well. He’s smart. He’s learned pretty quickly.”

One thing that has helped Barner is that his former University of Oregon teammate Patrick Chung, one of the Patriots’ starting safeties, has opened his home to him.

“He’s been through a lot, he works hard, and he’s a great dude," Chung said. "He’s just a good person. If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be staying at the house.

"And he can play.”

The Patriots initially turned to Barner after the season opener when No. 4 running back Jeremy Hill tore his ACL. Since that time, top running back Rex Burkhead has been placed on injured reserve (concussion/neck), further depleting the depth at the position.

So the 5-foot-9, 195-pound Barner is now third on the depth chart behind Sony Michel and James White. Barner, 29, recapped his football journey in an interview with ESPN.com.

When he first started playing football: “Age 11, Junior All-American, wide receiver. Just one year and then my Mom wouldn’t let me play anymore. So in high school, I snuck in to try out for the team.”

Favorite teams and players growing up: “Huge 49ers fan. My family is still 49ers fans, regardless of where I play. I loved Jerry Rice, obviously. T.O. Jeff Garcia. Steve Young. Garrison Hearst. Merton Hanks. But my favorite player of all-time was Barry Sanders; I just loved his ability to get out of a phone booth. That guy would lose 1,000 yards in a season and still rush for 1,000. That’s unheard of; just his ability to make guys miss in such a crowd.”

Role models in his life: “My father [Gary], just seeing the growth he’s had, and my mother [Wilhelmenia, nicknamed Squeaky], who is the strongest woman on this earth. My sister [Maisha] has been huge in my life. Two of my brothers [Kiandre, Martel]. I have a great, great family -- five brothers. I’m very fortunate. Outside of my family, John Riley, who is a real close friend of mine who I met in Oregon; he’s been a huge inspiration to me as far as my spiritual walk. He’s always checking on me, making sure I’m doing the right thing. And my coach back at Oregon, Coach [Gary] Campbell, I love that man.”

Top memories of high school football: “I started off playing 8-man football [as a freshman and sophomore]. The graduating class was 70-something kids. My coach there really gave me the encouragement because people were saying, ‘You can’t play 11-man, you’re too small.’ Then I went on to Notre Dame [in Riverside, California] and that was 11-man. For me, the memories are about the camaraderie, playing with guys I’m still friends with today. The game is the game, but for me, it’s more about the memories created with the people.”

Enrolling at University of Oregon: “I needed to get away from my family. Not that I don’t love them, but it was about growing into my own man, and separating myself without that safety net. You go away, make some mistakes, learn from them, grow. So that could have been anywhere but what made me choose Oregon is that where I’m from in California, people don’t say hi to each other. If a guy says ‘What’s up?’ to you, it might be a problem. When I got to Oregon, everyone was like ‘Hey!’ It was something new, a loving, caring environment and everyone was for each other. That’s what sold me.”

Top football memories at Oregon: “Scoring my first touchdown, against Purdue. Winning conference to go to our first Rose Bowl in 95 years. And obviously, the USC game -- 321 yards, five touchdowns.”

Selected by the Panthers in the sixth round of the 2013 draft: “My agent told me, ‘Whatever you do, don’t watch the draft.’ Of course, I watched it. That was the most upsetting, annoying, happiest, tear-filled moment that I finally experienced -- just knowing that everything my family sacrificed wasn’t for nothing. It was special to share that with my family and a few friends.”

Joining the Eagles (2014-2017): “My college coach, Chip Kelly, was with the Eagles and he traded for me going into my second year. Winning my Super Bowl [in 2017 against the Patriots], that’s something when you feel like you’ve reached the pinnacle of your career. You think about how many great players who have played this game that have never won it. I remember talking with Steve Smith, one of the favorite guys I’ve ever played with, and he was telling me my rookie year about the Super Bowl and how hard it was to get there.”

Heading back home to Carolina in the 2018 offseason: “That was great. A lot of people had asked me when the Panthers traded me to the Eagles if I was mad. Never. I didn’t give them a reason to keep me. But the way they handled that trade, they’ll always have a special place in my heart. I had a conversation with Coach [Ron] Rivera and [former general manager] Mr. [Dave] Gettleman and they said to me, ‘If you don’t want us to make the trade, we won’t, but we think it will be beneficial to your career.’ So to come back to Coach Rivera and be around him and his staff [in the 2018 offseason and preseason], and be a better player and show them the growth that had taken place, that was special. It didn’t work out, but putting on the Panthers uniform again for the team that gave me my first opportunity meant a lot to me.”

Signing with the Patriots: “I did not expect it. I tell people all the time that it reminds me a lot of what I experienced in college. It’s how everything is structured. There’s no wasted time. The attention to detail is just crazy. You sit in those squad meetings and listen to Coach Belichick talk, it’s mind-boggling. I’m not saying that other places don’t pay attention to the small details. This is just completely different to where I’ve been. I love the feeling here, I love this locker room. This team has been the golden standard for many, many years and to be here and be able to understand why, it’s special.”

What he loves about football: “Every step and stage in life, God brings people into my life who I love and grow from, people who help me through situations. Being back with my guy Pat [Chung], I never thought that would happen. Being in the running back room with James White and Sony -- good dudes. That’s what is so special about football. I think that’s what makes football different from any other sport, which are more individual. But when you get into a football locker room, there are so many different personalities, so many different characteristics, and they all have to mesh for things to go right. That’s what makes it special to me -- getting along with people from different backgrounds, who have different perspectives on life, being able to communicate with guys who might communicate differently than I do.”

Summing up his football journey: “Blessed and highly favored.”