Meet De’Lon


De’Lon Barnes knows just how far from home he is.

Two thousand miles, give or take, he figures. Unfathomable light years culturally.

But in his mind? On crisp fall afternoons on 100 yards of green grass along the Eel River?

Home remains a forever touchable place for him. And every time he thinks of it, he feels forever blessed to have come so far.

“Every Saturday I’m on that football field thinking about my family, thinking about everything I left to come here and chase my dream and play with these guys every Saturday … It’s great,” says Barnes, a Manchester senior who grew up in South Central Los Angeles. “Honestly, I love the camaraderie we have and the chance for making history and building a culture.

“It’s a great opportunity.”

And if it seems entirely too difficult to fathom how a young man from the second-largest metropolis in America could have so fallen in love with a small gem of a school in Indiana, it’s not difficult at all for Barnes. The chance to play college football, and to do it in a place so welcoming and so open to a diversity of experiences and backgrounds, makes him feel like the luckiest young man on earth.

“This was an opportunity and a chance to make a way out of where I came from, the environment where I came from,” says Barnes, a defensive back who also plays some special teams. “Not a lot of people get this opportunity to play collegiate ball, not just in Indiana but anywhere, coming from South Central L.A. So it was a blessing and an opportunity to play football out here in Indiana.

“I definitely plan on leading and leaving a legacy for this team to continue on.”

If so, that legacy’s origin story began at a showcase football camp in Orange County, Calif., run by former UCLA coach Terry Donahue, where more than 200 schools, including Manchester, had the chance to check out some 400 prospective student-athletes.

“(Assistant) Coach (Vince) Cashdollar is the one who actually recruited him,” Manchester head football coach Nate Jensen recalls. “He struck up that relationship with De’Lon’s father and it progressed to the point where his father trusted us enough to send De’Lon to North Manchester, Indiana.”

It’s been an exceedingly fruitful relationship since. Not only has Barnes’ versatility allowed him to excel on the field (“He can play multiple positions, and he’s played since he stepped foot on campus,” Jensen says), but his immersion in Manchester’s tight-knit culture has been virtually seamless.

“De’Lon’s got such a great personality,” Jensen says. “He’s such a high quality young man. He’s one of my son’s favorite football players. Matthew and De’Lon kind of have a special relationship. I can’t even put it into words what that young man means not only to the football program at Manchester but to my family personally.”

Right back at ya, Barnes says.

“I’d say my best experience (at MU) has been the relationships I’ve built, not just with players, not just with the students, not just with the coaches, but like with even the staff members,” says Barnes, a sport management major and member of the football team’s leadership council. “It goes down to every single person I’ve built a relationship with here, and I hope they remember my name forever. I plan on making that mark on every single person I meet here, just so down the road (it’s) ‘Oh, I remember that kid, De’Lon, he played for Manchester, he was a great kid, he always would say hi to me …’

“The relationships I built here I know will last a lifetime, and I’m blessed to have built them. I wouldn’t be the man I am today without them.”

And that’s legacy enough in its own right.

By Benjamin Smith