Small shadow, big plays

When it comes to Columbus North’s 160-pound wide receiver Wyatt Barkes, one plan takes care of both football success and good health.

“You can’t hit what you can’t catch,” said Bull Dogs head coach Tim Bless, who has watched the senior grow into an impact wide receiver. “He stays healthy because he is so shifty.

“You definitely need to have courage when you are that size playing with these guys.”

Barkes has been avoiding the big hit since he began playing PAAL football in third grade.

“My mom (Kelly Cull) always has been worried,” Barkes said with a laugh. “But my dad (Jason Barkes) always has encouraged me to play a man’s sport.”

As a junior at North, Barkes earned a starting position, but he didn’t put up big numbers. He finished the year with 18 catches for 193 yards, a 10.7 yards per catch average.

This season, he not only has turned the corner, he has sprinted around it.

Through just five games, the 5-foot-11 Barkes has 15 catches for 244 yards, a 16.3 average. He has scored twice on receptions and has another touchdown on a run. He has carried four times for 55 yards, a 13.8 average. And he also has completed a pass for 22 yards.

He has been a big part of North’s run to a 4-1 record and a 3-0 mark in Conference Indiana. The Dogs are ranked eighth in the most recent Class 6A poll.

Opponents can’t focus on North’s No. 1 wideout, Alex Algee, because quarterback Triston Perry will burn them by finding Barkes, who has the ability to turn a very short gain into a big one with his ability to gain yards after the catch.

“It’s kind of like last year in that I am not the No. 1 target, because that is Alex,” Barkes said. “But I feel like I can potentially be a game changer if I have the opportunity.”

At his size, he knows he needs to make the most of every opportunity, and he needs to survive.

“It’s certainly a challenge in 6A with the size of people we’re playing,” he said. “Everyone is big, everyone is fast, everyone is strong. I have to make sharp cuts.

“I always try to avoid people. I think I’ve been doing decently.”

Besides the added respect he has earned this season, Barkes said that North offensive coordinator Jason Perry is using an up-tempo system that is providing a lot of players with additional opportunities.

Add to the equation that the Bull Dogs’ defense is better and the offense is getting better field position, and a lot of players are thriving.

“If I can get the ball in space, I can make things happen,” Barkes said.

“The beauty of football is that it takes all sizes and all shapes,” Bless said.

“Wyatt has earned every touch.

“He plays big for us, and by that I mean he has the ability to turn in a big play every time he touches the ball. The statistics speak for themselves. Obviously, we are not a one-dimensional team.”

Although Bless said Barkes has solid speed for a high school player, he noted that he wouldn’t be one of the fastest two or three players on the team in a 40-yard dash.

“His gift is that he can reach full speed in two steps,” Bless said.

As North has turned into a championship contender, Barkes has become a huge part of that success.

“I am having the most fun I have had playing football, by far,” he said.

At a glance

Wyatt Barkes

SCHOOL: Columbus North

YEAR: Senior

POSITION: Wide receiver

SIZE: 5-foot-11, 160 pounds

2014 STATS: 18 catches, 193 yards, 10.7 yards per catch

2015 STATS: 15 catches, 244 yards, 16.5 yards per catch; 3 touchdowns