Barnas have appetite for gridiron |

Barnas have appetite for gridiron

Steve Yingling

Chris and Rich Barna didn’t miss many meals while growing up in South Lake Tahoe. At the same time, the large-but-not-fat brothers did more than chow down while sitting at the dinner table. They cared, listened and communicated with one another.

Now as their college athletic careers have taken flight on different ends of California, the brothers have remained close and supportive of each other.

“We really didn’t compete with one another. We try to encourage each other. We want the best for the both of us, whether it be in sports or life,” said Chris, the youngest of the Barna brothers at 18. “We tried to compete with each other a couple of times and we both ended up doing worse.”

Next week, 6-foot 4-inch, 230-pound Chris will start his collegiate baseball career at California State University-San Bernardino, the same NCAA Division II school that South Tahoe High grad Levi Funderburk starred for before moving on to minor league baseball. Beware baserunners, the 1997 South Tahoe High School graduate will play catcher for the Coyotes.

Meanwhile, 19-year-old Rich has grown to 6-6 and 270 pounds, the body frame college football coach’s dream about. So naturally Rich is playing junior college ball for Santa Rosa, a year after being a part-time starter at guard for Sonoma State, which has dropped its football team.

“Football is a sport where you never know what’s going to happen,” Rich said. “I kind of struggled at first. I don’t know if it was the program or my attitude. I came in with the attitude that I was going to dominate everybody and be this amazing player. I was having problems letting my head get in the way, but I’ve settled down since and become used to the offense.”

Since Santa Rosa doesn’t open its season until Sept. 13, second-year coach Keith Simons is holding off his assessment of the mammoth tackle’s abilities.

“He’s a really strong kid downstairs, but it remains to be seen about his upper-body strength,” Simons.

Simons is certain about one area concerning Rich – his character.

“His work ethic is fantastic. He’s one of those kids you like to have on your team because he’s a good, responsible, young man and he’s one of those kids you don’t worry about,” Simons said.

Testimony to Rich’s work ethic is his fall work load. Not only is Rich playing football and going to school, he’s working part-time – for two different employers.

“It hasn’t been too easy. There have been a couple of practices where I’ve been tired. I think I might be losing one of the jobs soon,” Rich said.

Rich attributes his enviable qualities to his parents, Rich Sr. and Tina.

“It’s a whole family thing that’s gotten us where we are. We always had dad coach us through soccer and mom was always there to help out and support us,” Rich said.

After last Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage, Rich likes his chances of becoming a starting tackle this fall.

“That’s the best I’ve felt so far. I put it all out on the field, and it felt great,” said Rich, a 1995 graduate of STHS.

Besides switching colleges, Rich is adjusting to a change in position – from guard to tackle.

“At tackle, you’re more on an island because you don’t have a guard or center to help you out. Our simple offense probably helps us out because people know we are going to pass a lot, so it’s just a matter of going out and there and kicking butts. I like the direct approach,” Rich said. “But I’m going to miss pulling, trapping and killing people at guard.”

With his quick feet and size, Rich could have NCAA Division I schools wooing him if he has a big season at Santa Rosa this fall.

“I kind of look at this year as a make-or-break year. I’m at the point where I could have a great year and get noticed, or end up at another school like Sonoma State, playing and having fun,” Rich said. “I just want to have a good year, and I can feel the pressure from that because everyone is pushing for a four-year school.”

Funderburk, a first baseman for the Class A Chico Heat, helped Coyotes coach Don Parnell recruit Chris.

“Levi called with a recommendation because Chris wasn’t being seen, though he could play for us and help out,” Parnell said.

However, San Bernardino might get more than it bargained for. Since a workout in San Bernardino, the left-handed hitting Chris has improved his batting stroke and reduced the time it takes him to fire the ball to second base. Chris attributes the improvements to South Tahoe Senior Babe Ruth coach Dave Santee.

“We’ve been refining some things to get me ready for college,” Chris said. “In high school, everything for me was a power hit and I just hit a high fly ball. I was standing on top of the plate and dipping my shoulder and pulling everything. Now I can see the ball coming in better and take it to the other field. I don’t strike out as often and still hit with power.”

Santee also improved Chris’ arm strength, reducing the time it takes him to throw to second base by .3 seconds.

“I was never told that I had a very strong arm, but I have another .1 second to shave off and I’m (at the professional average for catchers,” Chris said.

Santee and Barna continued to work out together following the Senior Babe Ruth season.

“He’s just maturing as a ballplayer,” Santee said. “When he makes an error or strikes out, he leaves it there. He’s learning to still be intense, but relax and not get down on himself. You can’t do that in this game.

“This kid is great to coach. He puts all trust into his coach, and he gives me all the respect a coach would want.

Parnell won’t redshirt Chris. He plans to insert him in the lineup immediately.

“We really want to get him as much playing time as a freshman as we can,” Parnell said. “It will be interesting to see when he gets here, but all the tools are there. The thing that really sold us on him is academically. He’s a low-risk kid because we know he’s going to be eligible all the time.”

Obviously, the prospect of starting from the outset has put some pressure on Chris.

“I’m nervous as (heck) to go down there and know that I have a pretty good chance of starting my first year. But I did gain a lot of confidence over the summer,” he said.

That the Barna brothers didn’t both wind up on a college gridiron together is puzzling to some area coaches, but not the siblings.

“He got a lot of flack for not choosing football over baseball,” Rich said. “He’s going to much happier, and I think he’s better in baseball than football.

“I used to love going to his baseball games when we were little. He has an amazing talent for blocking the plate and he has a great swing. He could play baseball 800 million hours a day and not go home, if he could.”

That two of their children have enhanced their education through athletics, pleases the young men’s parents.

“I’m just extremely proud,” Rich Sr. said. “It’s taken them both a lot of discipline. They’ve worked through a lot of adversity to get where they’ve gotten. When people have told them they couldn’t do it, they worked through it and did it.”

As close as the brothers are, Rich knows one thing he’ll never buy Chris for Christmas or his birthday.

“I don’t pick out his bats. I just can’t do it. They have to be perfect. Baseball players are too particular about bats. He has two that cost $200 plus. I’d hate to spend that kind of money and have him take it back.”

Knowing the Barnas, Chris would probably take the bat back and use the money to buy his brother a top-of-the-line pair of cleats.

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