There was one major difference between Reggie and Stephen Barnette when they committed to attend and play football at University of Richmond: Stephen would be a full-scholarship player, but his identical twin Reggie would not.
“I was looking for a package deal,” Stephen said. “I didn’t want to go to school without him, and I wanted to have the opportunity for us to play and go to school. Richmond came late, and they offered me a scholarship and a preferred walk-on to Reggie, so I picked Richmond.”
When Reggie arrived on campus in 2010, he had several conversations with then head coach Latrell Scott about working hard and proving that he deserved to be a scholarship player, but the best motivation came from his younger brother, who was born just 16 minutes before him.
“I wanted him to have a chip on his shoulder,” Stephen said. “I don’t think I had to do much because he already had the right mentality, but I definitely tried to be in his head, telling him he had something to prove.”
They had always encouraged each other, but the Barnette brothers struggled in their early days on campus.
“Our careers here started out slow,” Stephen said. “We got in trouble a lot with professors because we were immature, and Coach Scott was always really hard on us because he expected a lot out of us. Having Reggie with me made the experience better. I don’t know if I could have done this on my own. We had to grow up and mature — both on and off the field — but we finally came to understand what it takes to be a student-athlete at Richmond.”
Reggie said: “Not having a scholarship added fuel to my fire and made me work harder. I stayed a couple of summers and worked with Coach Stew and that really helped me. I knew I needed to gain a lot of weight and I got my speed up and that really helped with my confidence.”
When Danny Rocco was named head coach in 2011, he wanted everyone to have a fresh start.
“When you start trying to piece together who they are,” Rocco said of his players, “you start learning their names, studying their academics, studying the videotapes, learning their jersey numbers—you start to build up a résumé of who these guys are. I’m always a little bit cautious at the beginning to ask other people’s opinions.”
When Rocco started to go through video tapes from the year before, he was shocked to learn that Reggie, who had played a decent amount on defense towards the end of the season, was not a scholarship player.
“I went through the first semester and went through the scholarship allotments,” Rocco said. “I was able to quickly put Reggie in the position where he really merited being a student-athlete at the University of Richmond.”
The day after Rocco saw Reggie in the hallway of the Robins Center and talked to him about his position as a preferred walk-on, Maura Bolger, the assistant director of athletics and compliance, brought Reggie into her office so he could sign the necessary paperwork to become a scholarship player.
“I called my mom and she’s crying and I’m tearing up a little bit,” Reggie said. “It was validation of all the hard work I had put in. I knew I still had a lot to do and accomplish, but it was definitely a milestone in my life because that’s something I set out to accomplish and I did. It was a great feeling.”
“He was signing the paperwork and I had no idea,” Stephen said. “I was sitting in D-hall when I got a text from him. My mom called me and she was crying, I started tearing up and I saw him later and we just kind of embraced each other. We both knew how much it meant because he set out to be something and he did it. It was very emotional and just kind of indescribable.”
Now as red-shirt juniors, the Barnette brothers continue to work together, support each other and establish themselves as leaders, although they play on opposite sides of the ball.
“Whenever we get a scouting report,” Stephen said, “we help each other out. A big part of being an offensive player is knowing the defense, and he gives me advice and tips” on what to expect from the opposing team’s defense, having seen Richmond’s offense.
“I feel like I’ve become a better football player in terms of the mental part of the game,” Stephen said. “It’s also great that if one of us makes a big play, the first person [we see] on the sideline is the other one. It’s awesome to see the person that you’ve been with your whole life out there on the other side of the ball making big plays—I’ve done this with him my whole life and now everybody gets to see how good he is.”
Reggie and Stephen’s impact on the program is perhaps most apparent to their position coaches.
Defensive coordinator Bob Trott said Reggie was outgoing and smart. “He has a lot of athletic ability and football knowledge,” Trott said, “and also offers a lot of leadership to the defense.”
Wide receivers coach Fontel Mines said Stephen’s leadership was most evident in his playing. “Stephen’s ability to learn the entire offense allows us to put him in different positions,” Mines said, which makes it difficult for opposing teams to know where he will be.
“He brings consistency and confidence to our program.,” he said. “He has some of the best hands I’ve ever seen, he demands the ball and makes plays for our offense when we need him.”
Rocco said when he talked about the Barnette brothers, it’s very hard not to start with their talent. “They’re both very talented kids, blessed with athleticism and size,” he said. “They enjoy being at the university, they enjoy being football players and they enjoy being in the program.
“I think they’ve both kind of gotten to the point where they’re playing well enough and with enough confidence, and that they’re able to really start working towards doing more things other than just performing on the field. But they’re both very motivated, and they’re both very competitive and they both really want to win. So from that standpoint, I’m glad they’re here and I’m glad they have another year of eligibility.”
Contact reporter Lauren Shute at firstname.lastname@example.org