La Salle NewsTribune file photo/Scott Anderson
By JARED BELL
John Barnes said no.
Over and over and over again.
During his freshman year at St. Bede Academy, Barnes didn’t go out for wrestling, but Bruin coach Sean Hobson saw Barnes walking the hallway 3 ½ years ago and told Jeff Barnes — John’s older brother and a member of the wrestling squad — to see if John would be interested in joining the Bruin wrestling team.
“I saw him in the hallway and saw how big he was already as a freshman and I was like, ‘This kid is perfect to mold into a wrestler,’” Hobson said. “He already had the body, so we just needed to get him in the room and get him the skills.”
However, Barnes declined the invitation.
“Jeff asked him, came back to practice the next day and told me, ‘He said no, coach,’” Hobson recalls. “I was like, ‘Well, ask him again’ and Jeff was like, ‘Really?’ I said, ‘Yeah, ask him again.’ He came back to practice the next day and goes, ‘He said no again, coach’ and I told him, ‘Keep bugging him, keep asking him. Ask him every day, ask him all the time. Tell him coach really wants him.’”
After nearly a month of persistence, Hobson finally got his man as Barnes joined the team midway through his freshman season.
Almost instantly, he took off.
Despite wrestling for just half a season, Barnes — who is the first-ever heavyweight in SBA’s brief wrestling history — qualified for sectionals as a freshman and returned to the sectional as a sophomore.
Then, in his junior year, Barnes gained state-wide notoriety. Unranked at the start of the season, Barnes entered the GO EARN IT Wrestling Apparel state rankings for the first time in Dec. 2014, won his first sectional title and advanced to the Class 1A state semifinals, where he lost and eventually finished third.
“Getting third junior year is nice,” Barnes said last March, “but coming back senior year, I’m winning it, for sure.”
Now, after he won his championship quarterfinal Friday morning, Barnes is two wins shy of realizing his dream.
After Barnes became the No. 1-ranked wrestler at his weight in January, he repeated with regional and sectional titles and won his first two matches at the IHSA State Wrestling Tournament to advance to Friday night’s 1A 285-pound state semifinal.
Barnes (39-0) will face Vandalia’s Kendrick Woolsey (42-6) in the semifinals.
“I made it to the semis last year, but this year I’m hoping to go farther,” Barnes said. “It’s going to be a tough, tough match.”
If Barnes advances to Saturday’s finals, he’ll secure the highest state medal in SBA wrestling history, bettering his third-place medal from last year.
If Barnes wins a state title, he would become the third individual state champion in school history.
“John is a very driven person, and he has a great group of people backing him,” Hobson said. “He wants to do these things. He wants to be the best, and you can’t coach desire. I think that’s what separates him from everyone else — he doesn’t have the desire to be good, he has the desire to be the best.”
No matter what medal Barnes brings home, he continues to write an early chapter in SBA’s young wrestling history and continue his improbable rise.
Jared Bell can be reached at 220-6938. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.