Georgia State spotlight will shine Saturday on Tra Barnett

When Tra Barnett’s football career is over, he would like to be an actor. It’s the course of study he’s following at Georgia State, and Barnett doesn’t hesitate to raise his hand in class and volunteer to read a dramatic role. The spotlight doesn’t bother him.

Good thing, because this week the senior from Elberton will be a focal point for the Georgia State offense when it hosts No. 25 Appalachian State at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. With prolific quarterback Dan Ellington out for this week’s game with a knee sprain, Barnett likely will play a key role in the crucial Sun Belt Conference contest.

Barnett, who wore a red non-contact jersey in practice this week, has rewritten many of Georgia State’s rushing records this season.

Barnett leads the Sun Belt Conference and ranks No. 6 in FBS competition, with 124.2 yards per game. He has 1,118 yards and 10 touchdowns – both Georgia State records – and he is the first player in school history to rush for 1,000 yards.

“None of that has really hit me right now because you’ve got to keep moving forward,” Barnett said. “When I look back, it will be something I’ll be proud of, but right now I’ll just keep my head down and grind.”

Barnett set a school record with 242 yards against Troy on Oct. 26, the night he broke school records for a single game, a season and a career. Barnett is Georgia State’s all-time leader in rushing yards (1,821) and rushing touchdowns (17).

He credited his offensive line “for doing a phenomenal job” and said he planned to give them a treat at the end of the year, although he’s still thinking about it “because it’s got to be something good.”

Barnett grew up playing every sport in his small town, the granite capital of Georgia, where the high school stadium is called “The Granite Bowl.” He starred in football, basketball, baseball and track for the Blue Devils, where he was a teammate of Mecole Hardman, the former Georgia receiver who is enjoying a productive rookie NFL season with the Kansas City Chiefs. The two remain close and exchange texts or phone calls several times each week.

Barnett chose Georgia State after attending the school’s Junior Day. He showed up with his workout gear and was ready to run, only to learn it was just a glorified meet-and-greet. The 90-mile drive wasn’t a waste of time because Barnett got what he was looking for.

“The coach pulled me off to the side and said, ‘I want to offer you a full scholarship,’” Barnett said. “Coming out of high school I wanted to be close to home, and I wanted to be part of something new and help get the program started.”

He played eight games as a freshman and ran for 107 yards, although his highlight was a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Arkansas State. He played only four games as a sophomore, but had a breakthrough in 2018 when he was the team’s second-leading rusher.

The big test comes this week against Appalachian State, which last week knocked off the same South Carolina team that defeated Georgia in Athens last month. The Mountaineers (8-1, 4-1 Sun Belt) have won three consecutive Sun Belt titles and is 28-7 in league play since joining the conference in 2014. App State is 5-0 all-time against the Panthers and won 45-17 in 2018.

Georgia State (6-3, 3-2) will be without Ellington, the Sun Belt’s No. 3 player for total offense and passing. The Panthers will replace him with freshman Cornelious “Quad” Brown who completed 8 of 18 passes for 80 yards in second half of last week’s game against Louisiana-Monroe.

“It was great for him to go out and get those reps,” coach Shawn Elliott said. “Just to run off and get the feeling of the in-game excitement. I told him not to make it bigger than it is. He’s got a great attitude, he’s a phenomenal young man and we’re looking forward to seeing him go out there and compete.”