Almost a year after trying out for the WWE, former Enterprise all-state defensive lineman TJ Barnes was drafted by the XFL’s New York Guardians franchise.
Barnes was a star lineman at Enterprise before becoming an All-ACC nose tackle at Georgia Tech. Barnes spent five years in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills and New York Jets before joining the upstart Alliance of American Football league in 2018.
Before joining the AAF, Barnes had gotten to nearly 400 pounds and actually tried out with the WWE before being told that he needed to get into better shape. The hard-hitting defensive lineman did just that, going on a strict diet and working harder than ever in the gym he slimmed down and signed with the Atlanta Legends of the AAF.
For the Legends, Barnes was the team’s starting nose tackle but also moved around on the line and ended up with 18 total tackles before financial issues – among other problems – forced the AAF to close midseason.
Following the AAF’s closure, Barnes signed with the Carolina Panthers before being released before training camp began.
Around the same time as the AAF was announced, WWE owner Vince McMahon announced that he was restarting the XFL – a former spring football league that operated in 2001 – with an opening start date in the spring of 2020.
Last week, the initial XFL Draft occurred and Barnes was selected by the New York Guardians in the fourth round of the XFL’s “front seven” portion of the draft, as the XFL drafted players by position.
“It’s crazy because just a year ago I was doing the WWE tryout and now I’m going to be playing in the WWE’s football league,” Barnes said. “I’m real excited. It’s another opportunity to push out more film and I was just thankful to be considered.”
Despite the way the AAF ended, Barnes had no reservations about joining billionaire McMahon’s XFL.
“I’m just ready to get back on the field, honestly,” Barnes said. “If it lasts just as long as the AAF then so be it, but from the research I’ve done – and what I’ve been told – the XFL shouldn’t have the same issues that the AAF did.”
The Guardians are led by longtime NFL assistant Kevin Gilbride, who will serve as head coach and general manager of the franchise.
Gilbride has been a successful offensive coordinator in both the college and NFL ranks. He served as the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator for the explosive Warren Moon-led Houston Oilers of the early 1990s before becoming the first offensive coordinator in the history of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
After leading the Jaguars offense for two years, Gilbride became the head coach for the San Diego Chargers from 1997 until 1998 and then served as offensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills, Pittsburgh Steelers and finally the New York Giants. Gilibride helped guide the career of future Hall of Famer Eli Manning from 2004 until 2013.
The Guardians also boast a healthy defensive staff that will include defensive coordinator Jim Hermann and defensive line coach CJ Ah-You.
Hermann was the defensive coordinator for Michigan from 1997 until 2005 and then spent a number of years in the NFL as a linebackers coach for the New York Jets, Giants and Indianapolis Colts. Herman is currently the associate head coach and linebackers coach at Bowling Green University. Ah-You was an All-Big 12 defensive lineman at Oklahoma before being drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the NFL. He also played for the St. Louis Rams from 2007 until 2012 before becoming an assistant coach at Oklahoma.
Ah-You was the defensive line coach at Vanderbilt from 2016 until 2018.
“I can’t wait to get out there,” Barnes said of playing under the experienced Guardians staff. “They told me what they’re trying to do defensively and I just can’t wait to get started.
“I’ve slimmed down and am trying to slim down even more to around the 330 (pound) range, so I can play every position on the line (like in Atlanta) and stay on the field. Kind of make myself a “Swiss army knife” on the line.”
Barnes has some simple goals for his time in the XFL.
“I want to be the best player in the league and have no drop off from my performance in the AAF and be able to put out more good tape,” Barnes said. “As far as team goals, I want us to put out a good product on the field and win a championship.”
While Barnes is excited to be playing for McMahon’s football league, he has no intensions of giving wrestling another shot.
“Oh no, never,” Barnes said of possibly getting into the WWE. “It was the roughest thing I’ve ever done in my life, ever. Ever. I would never do that again.”
Barnes wasn’t the only Alabamian to be drafted in the XFL. Former Alabama State tight end Brandon Barnes was selected by the Los Angeles Wildcats and former South Alabama tight end Wes Saxton – who played for the Birmingham Iron in the AAF – was selected by the St. Louis BattleHawks.
Alabama brothers Cyrus and Arie Kouandjio were both selected by the Guardians, former Alabama defensive lineman Adrian Hubbard was selected by the Wildcats and former Crimson Tide defensive back Bradley Sylve was selected by the DC Defenders. Sylve and Hubbard also played for the Iron in the AAF.
A slew of Auburn Tigers were also selected as wide receiver Sammie Coates went to the Houston Roughnecks; running back Cameron Artis-Payne, cornerback John Franklin III and offensive lineman Darius James went to the Dallas Renegades; linebacker Tre Williams was selected by the Wildcats; cornerback Chris Davis was drafted by the Seattle Dragons; cornerbacks Ryan White and Trovon Reed went to the BattleHawks; safety Robenson Therezie went to the Tampa Bay Vipers; and defensive tackle Andrew Williams signed with the Wildcats.
Troy was represented by quarterback Brandon Silvers and linebacker Jonathan Massaquoi. Massaquoi – who played for the Iron in the AAF – was drafted by the Renegades.
The XFL started out the draft by giving each team the opportunity to select one quarterback to start things off and Silvers was selected by the Dragons. Silvers played for the Memphis Express in the AAF. Silvers is expected to be the Dragons’ starting quarterback but he will have to compete with former South Florida quarterback BJ Daniels and Wesley quarterback Joe Callahan for that job.
The XFL’s season begins on Feb. 8, 2020.