Among the uncommitted official visitors that Clemson played host to this past weekend was North Oconee High School (Bogart, Ga.) athlete Khalil Barnes.
The Tigers offered Barnes as a safety in late September, before he decommitted from Wake Forest in early October. He previously traveled to Tiger Town as an unofficial visitor for the Syracuse game on Oct. 22 prior to coming back for the official this past weekend.
“It was cool,” Barnes said of the official visit in an interview with The Clemson Insider. “I’ve been there a few times, so it’s not really anything that I hadn’t done before. But it was cool just being around some of the guys. A lot of their commits are Georgia people, so it was cool just bonding with those guys and seeing everything. I’ve been there a lot of times for a day just to see the football aspect of it. But being able to see the parts that I haven’t been able to see… that was pretty cool.”
Barnes (6-1, 185) was accompanied on the official visit by his parents and sister. The family arrived around midnight Friday following his high school playoff game and departed around 3 or 4 p.m. Sunday.
“My mom and my dad have been there multiple times too, so they’ve seen everything,” he said. “But every time we go there, they said that it’s a nice family feel, and they get treated well. It was my sister’s first time and she enjoyed it, and she appreciated the part – a lot of schools talk about they take care of you with life after football – but she appreciated the part of a lot of their staff being former players and former people that went to the school.”
The highlight of the visit for Barnes was going to Dabo Swinney’s house for dinner with other official visitors, as well as current players. That part of the visit stood out to Barnes, especially considering he had never been to a head coach’s house before, and the fact he went Saturday evening after Clemson’s 31-30 loss to South Carolina.
“Just seeing how he was open and had so many people there, it was pretty cool,” Barnes said. “Especially after a loss, I don’t really think many people would be able to do that. Even with it being their recruiting weekend, a lot of coaches would try to sulk on the loss… Just being there, being with the whole Clemson family and their recruits, it was cool to see.”
Speaking of the Tigers’ loss to the Gamecocks, Barnes gave his thoughts on what went down at Death Valley with Swinney’s team.
“Not everybody can play great every time, so it was just a game they didn’t play complimentary football,” he said. “Their defense would get one or two stops in a row and then the offense would be stagnant, or the offense would get going and the defense would give up a big play. So, it was just one of those days. Everybody has a day where the ball doesn’t fall their way. But even with all the bad things they did in the game, they still had a chance to win, which just shows you how good and how talented they are as a team and a program. … So, I still saw some things that I liked, and nothing changed about the way I feel about them.”
Barnes’ player host for the official visit was senior safety Jalyn Phillips.
“He was cool,” Barnes said. “He’s a senior, so he’s a guy that’s been there, and he’s not just going to say anything that’s not true. And he said Clemson, if you want to go somewhere to where you want to party and could have a lot of distractions, don’t come there. But if you’re about your business, it’s the place to be.”
As for the overarching message that Clemson coaches conveyed to Barnes during the visit, Swinney and his staff reiterated to Barnes that they’d love to have him on board with the Tigers. However, they aren’t applying pressure to get his pledge.
“Just really kept saying that they want me and they feel like I’m a priority, and that they’re ready when I’m ready,” he said. “Coach Swinney doesn’t ever want to force you into a decision. If you want to be there, he wants you to be 100 percent sure… Nothing was pressured or anything, but they definitely emphasized how much they want me and how I’m a need for them.”
Earlier this month, Barnes revealed that he’ll announce his commitment on Dec. 16, naming Clemson, Notre Dame and Oklahoma as his three finalists.
He officially visited Notre Dame the weekend of Nov. 5, when the Irish played the Tigers, and his decision is down to those two.
“I said from the jump as soon as I got that (Clemson) offer, that when all is said and done, Clemson’s going to be one of the teams to beat,” he said. “All the teams are close but honestly, it’s between Notre Dame and Clemson now. It’s tough. I haven’t been to Oklahoma, so they’re kind of at a disadvantage. But it’s between them two. It’ll be a tough one to choose between.”
What will be the biggest factors in his college choice?
“What feels the most like home and where I can build myself for life after football, because eventually football will end,” he said. “I want to be somewhere I can be stable and feel confident. So, really got to figure out where the best place would be for me for life after football.”