A.J. Barnes proves each week that height is only a number. At 5-foot-7, Barnes starts at middle linebacker for the Collins Tigers. He’s heard over and over that he’s too undersized to play the position, but at this point, his leadership and stats really speak for themselves. 

Ten games into his senior season, Barnes leads the Tigers in tackles (88) as their unquestioned leader on the defensive side of the football. 

“I’ve been trying to lead the defense,” Barnes said. “That’s been my goal this year. And average 10 tackles a game. I came up one short Friday night, but I feel like I had a good performance.”

Last Friday, Barnes finished with a team-high nine tackles, as Collins wrapped up regular season play with a 34-0 shutout of St. Patrick. He’s our Week 11 Sports601 Covington County Player of the Week. 

The Tigers have enjoyed a successful season thus far, going 9-1 in the regular season on the way to a district championship. None of that would’ve been possible without Barnes leading the defense, according to third-year coach Eric Booth. 

“Without A.J., we’d probably be lost right now,” Booth said. 

Before the season started, Booth brought Barnes into his office and told him the defense would go as far as he could take them in 2018. For Booth, Barnes’ height didn’t affect that trust or even cross his mind.

“He [Barnes] is a small kid, but he’s got a big heart,” Booth said. “That’s what I love about him. He’s going to make a play. In third and five, I know he’s going to make a big play and help us out a lot.”

Barnes and the Tigers have made a habit of forcing three-and-outs, which of course puts the ball back in the hands of junior quarterback Hershey McLaurin. Offensively, Collins is averaging 33 points per game and outscoring opponents a combined 329-151 this year. 

“We’re playing fast,” Barnes said. “We always wanna play off the offense. We feel like when the offense scores and we make a couple stops, not too many teams can score with us.”

Collins will open the Class 2A playoffs at home Friday night against Enterprise.