In April, his 22-year-old brother, Gary Tinsley, died of an enlarged heart.
Almost two months to the day after Tinsley’s death, Barnes and his wife, Shadarrell, lost their son. Tavaris Barnes, Jr. died after he was born prematurely by three months.
With two giant reasons to put football on hold, Barnes elected to take a different approach.
“I went from not focused at all to totally focused and locked in on what I have to do,” he said. “I bought into coach [Dabo] Swinney’s program, being all in. That’s what it takes, being all in all the time.”
Tinsley, a linebacker at Minnesota, was a four-year letterman for the Golden Gophers. He started every game over the final two seasons of his college career and finished second on the team with 87 tackles as a senior.
“Last time I saw Gary, I was in Florida, the break right after spring. He was just telling me, ‘It’s your time. It’s your time to step up.’ Every time I had a problem, I’d call him…I took those words to heart,” Barnes said.
As if the loss of a brother, friend and confidant was enough. In mid-June, Barnes’ son died two days after his birth.
Several of Barnes’ coaches and teammates helped him grieve the loss of Junior. Defensive tackles coach Dan Brooks, Travis Blanks and Xavier Brewer played a big part in helping Barnes grieve.
“They all came to Florida to my son’s funeral. It was just awesome, the love I got from them,” Barnes said. “I got so many text messages…They gave me a lot of help, encouraged me a lot.”
All the heartbreak has helped Barnes develop a stronger faith.
“I know, my son not being here, he’s supposed to be where he’s at right now,” Barnes said. “He’s got everything in control. I’m going to follow Him.”
The redshirt sophomore is doing his best to turn those tragedies into triumph.
“Now, just coming into camp, I’m a lot more focused in my playbook, every night,” he said. “That’s something I didn’t do my first couple of years. I study every night. I pay more attention to detail. I know where I’m going. I know what I’m doing.
“Those first couple of years I didn’t know what I was doing.”
Barnes knows what he’s doing now, both on and off the field. On Aug. 1, he and Shadarrell were married.
“I really know what I want to do,” Barnes said. “I have a plan now. The first couple of years that I was here, I didn’t have a plan or a vision.”