APARTICULAR LOCAL legend made his way back to Wilkins Stadium in 2016 to play in an alumni football game. Having left a gold star reputation on the field his senior year, it only felt right for this man to reappear on the same field, laced up in shiny gold cleats. The allstar athlete, Cassius (Cass) Barnes, came dressed to dazzle and play in the Tullahoma High School alumni football game. While he was there, he did much more than simply lead his team and throw impeccable completion passes.
The countdown was on. The clock raced downward toward kickoff time. As it ticked, the stands began to fill with fans from all throughout the decades. Whether old or new supporters, everyone that showed up brought with them an overwhelming and tangible excitement. In a few moments they would watch some of their favorite athletes take the field one more time. The most prominent group of fans were those dressed in Pop Warner, middle school, and high school football jerseys. These young fans came to see the athletes they most looked up to. They were there to watch those who inspired them to play sports, motivated them to train hard, and showed them that working on developing themselves was the only way to unlocking their full potential.
As Barnes took the field that evening, he took special note of the impressionable kids hovering on the sidelines. They were up against the fence, as close as they could get to the 50-yard line. Barnes recognized many faces, as he had previously trained or coached many of them. Since Barnes grew up in Tullahoma, he knew firsthand what it was like to be a student-athlete in this community. He was raised by his loving grandparents who supported him and gave him what he needed. Despite having incredible grandparents, however, Barnes quickly learned how crucial it was to his development to have people in his life (outside of his immediate family) who would support and encourage him. Whether it’s a friend, coach, trainer, teacher, or mentor, having supportive relationships helps bring any athlete to the next level. This is why Barnes made a very simple, yet impactful gesture at the end of the alumni game.
After the heat from the Friday night lights dissipated and the stadium slowly emptied, Barnes began walking off the field to pack up and head home. He heard the voice of a local athlete say, “Hey! I love those Cam Newton golden cleats!” It was Jakobe Thomas who was speaking. Barnes purchased the shoes specifically for the game and had only worn them that night. He looked down at the shoes and then back up at the young man and said, “Here, you take them.” Barnes took off the shiny shoes. There, standing in his bare feet, he passed the cleats over to Thomas. Though the kind gesture was simple, its impact on the young man was significant. Thomas, now an athlete at Middle Tennessee State University, shared, “Cass prepared me for a lot of the challenges I now face in college. Not just physically, but mentally he knows what it takes to not only get here, but stay here.
I cannot thank him enough for the endless amount of knowledge and work he gave me. I still have the gold cleats hanging up in my room to this day.” The exchange between Barnes and Thomas sheds light on what Barnes holds close to his heart. The one thing greater than Barnes’ love of competition is his joy in inspiring and helping develop youth.
Many years ago, when Barnes was playing in a semi-professional football league, he was driving to Nashville with one of his teammates, Austin. They were going to play in a championship game. As the two were nearing their destination, Austin looked over at Barnes and said, “I’m going to need you to unlock your greatness.” And sure enough, Barnes did unlock his greatness during that game, as the team went home with a victory. As they rode back in the car, the teammate, who was aware of Barnes’ passion for mentoring, told Barnes that he should use the line “unlock your greatness” as he continues to work with and pour into young kids. Barnes has done just that.
Over the years, Barnes has coached countless Pop Warner football teams. He has hosted summer camp after summer camp. In his free time, outside of his personal training career at FlexUp Fitness, he has spent significant time working with young athletes on everything from weightlifting to proper footwork. Barnes shows up to support local athletes at various sporting events. The driving factors behind all of his decisions can be wrapped up in two things: 1) his love for the game. 2) his desire to invest in the next generation.
Barnes is one of the most well-known student-athletes to go through the Tullahoma City School System, although he would never admit it himself. He was blessed with raw talent and natural athleticism that proved very useful on the football field and the basketball court. Despite these God-given talents, Barnes still spoke about the importance of doing the small things. He admitted that in high school he was able to coast through, but playing football at the college level, at Tennessee Technical University, showed him the value of hard work and discipline. Barnes’ advice for the next generation of aspiring athletes is, “Do more than just practice. Don’t just wait to go to practice to get better every day. Go out and do the extra work that no one ever sees.” GN