A Clean Slate: Manchester’s KaShaun Barnes
TOMS RIVER - Before KaShaun Barnes had even been in high school for a week, he was already a sensation.
In the midst of the Matawan football team's season opener on Sept. 11, 2010, a 14-year-old Barnes was inserted into the game at quarterback for star Jared Allison, who was battling leg cramps. A highly-touted Huskies team was in a one-point battle with underdog Freehold Boro when the freshman newcomer threw a pair of touchdown passes, including a 64-yard bomb on the run to wide receiver Austin Davis that drew a gasp from the crowd. Matawan went on to a 22-2 victory, and just like that, a star was seemingly born.
However, since that auspicious debut, everything hasn't quite gone completely according to script, and much of it has been Barnes' own doing.
He has seen dizzying highs and lows. He was the starting quarterback on Matawan’s 2011 Central Jersey Group II championship team, making clutch plays in a playoff run that culminated with the Huskies stunning Rumson-Fair Haven in the final after losing to the Bulldogs in the regular season. A little over a year later, he was dismissed from the basketball team last winter and suspended from school for a violation of school rules, the latest in a series of infractions.
He was not part of the team when the 24th-seeded Huskies shocked Christian Brothers Academy on a last-second jumper in the first round of the Shore Conference Tournament for one of their biggest wins in program history last season.
“I’ve been through it all,’’ Barnes said.
Following his disciplinary issue last winter, he transferred to Manchester before the end of the school year. He has found a new home with the Hawks, a place where he has been able to wipe the slate clean, get his life back on track, and finish his athletic career on a high note. After a successful football season with Manchester as a quarterback/wide receiver/defensive back that earned him Shore Sports Network third-team All-Shore honors, he is now a key cog as a guard on the Hawks’ basketball team.
“It definitely helps to have him on the floor obviously, but off the floor as well,’’ said Manchester coach Ryan Ramsay. “He’s a born leader.”
He is one of only two seniors on a team that advanced to face 15th-seeded Toms River East in the WOBM quarterfinals with a 56-44 win over 10th-seeded Toms River North on Saturday in the Mariners’ home gym. Barnes dropped in a game-high 21 points to help Ramsay register his 100th career victory, and he also contributed as a primary ballhandler against Toms River North’s press and one of the team’s top rebounders.
The player who was a disciplinary headache only a season ago now serves as a calming influence for a young Hawks team that includes sophomores Jordan Torney and Israel Almestica, who started as freshmen, and sophomore Shavar Reynolds, who chipped in 15 points on Saturday.
“Being here has taught me really how to grow up and how to come to a new team and fit in and just be an adult,’’ Barnes said. “I think this is a perfect situation to show that I can be a leader because we have a bunch of young guys.”
“He’s been there,’’ said fellow senior Darius Barlow. “He tells guys about his past experiences and how to learn from them. He’s been on both sides. He understands the ups and downs.”
As far as on the court, he gives the seventh-seeded Hawks a physical 6-foot-3 athlete who rebounds well for a guard and can handle the ball, get to the rim, and defend. He also is a four-year varsity player.
“We know he can handle certain situations like this close game today,’’ Reynolds said. “He gives us another guard with size who is an all-around player.”
When Barnes came to Manchester last year, Ramsay said he met with him personally to discuss the issues he had at Matawan. Barnes has not had any disciplinary problems since arriving at his new school.
“To his credit, he’s been a model citizen,’’ Ramsay said. “Off the floor and in the classroom, he’s been fantastic.”
“He’s a senior, he’s learned from his mistakes and now he’s just moving forward,’’ Barlow said.
A stabilized home life has also contributed to Barnes working to put his problems in the past. He said he lives in Manchester with his mother and his uncle, Michael Barnes, a sergeant with the Asbury Park Police Department who works in the gang unit.
“He makes sure everything is right, and he’s just trying to teach me how to be a grown man,’’ Barnes said.
What also has helped is that Manchester is not Matawan, a football-mad town with a proud tradition where expectations can be overwhelming once a player shows promise at an early age like Barnes did.
“Matawan is a small town,’’ Barnes said. “It was a lot on me when I was only 14 years old.”
He has now found a new home at Manchester, where an athletic career that threatened to go off the rails last winter has been rejuvenated. Barnes has been given a second chance, and so far he is doing his best to make the most of it.
“This has been a fresh start for me,'' he said. "The future is looking bright."