COVINGTON, Ky. — It's been a full-circle journey for Detroit Lions linebacker Derrick Barnes.
While accepting the Walter Payton Man of the Year award in February, Super Bowl champion Andrew Whitworth recalled a moment last season when a fellow player spoke about how much his work in Cincinnati meant to him. That player was Barnes, a rookie who spent time with Whitworth at the Covington Boys & Girls Club as a child.
"He said, 'Hey man, you're not going to remember me ... you spent time with me when you were a young player in Cincinnati at the Boys & Girls Club, and it meant the world to me," Whitworth recounted. "He goes, 'You know what, the main thing I wanted to say, Whit, I made it. I made it to the NFL, Big Whit.'"
Barnes, Detroit's fourth-round pick, was in the crowd during Whitworth's acceptance speech.
"You know he was just here doing what he loved, and that's being around kids and putting smiles on kids faces," Barnes said. "I can't thank him enough for what he's done for me."
Now that his first NFL season is in the books, Barnes is hoping to do the same thing. He returned to that same Boys & Girls Club Tuesday, hoping to have an impact similar to what Whitworth had on him.
"Right when I pulled up, I just smiled and I'm like, 'This is crazy,'" Barnes said. "Walked through the doors and just seen the smiles on the staff's face, the kids' faces and was like, 'Wow, back to my old stomping grounds.'"
Barnes said he got chills as he toured the facility, remembering how he used to run through the halls as a kid.
"Honestly, I don't know where I would be (without the Boys & Girls Club)," Barnes said. "I get emotional about it because growing up and seeing the things that I've seen in my lifetime ... knowing that I had that out, and that out was the Boys & Girls Club — to be able to come here and I had a meal every day from here, got to be around friends, got to be active, got to be a child."
And he got to meet an influential figure in Whitworth.
Barnes went on to play high school football at Holy Cross before going to Purdue. He said he hopes to have even a small impact on the children he sees at the club because he knows what that can do.
"You don't know the impact that you're going to have on these kids," said Barnes. "And I just want to be able to pay it forward and be able to be there for these kids — not for my benefit, but for theirs."