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Mathias Barnwell finds fit with Penn State, ‘Tight End U’

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (BVM) – Riverbend High School senior Mathias Barnwell knows how to leave an impression on the football field. As a junior last season, the 6-foot-6, 250-pound athlete excelled on both offense and defense for the Bears, earning second-team all-region defensive lineman and first-team all-state tight end honors. Given his impressive resume, it didn’t take long for Barnwell to attract attention from Division I scouts, but it did take a bit longer for him to come to a decision.

“At first it was really overwhelming, it was just a lot to handle and you had to mature earlier,” Barnwell said. “It’s been a really great ride and I’m truly blessed for everything that came my way. All my hard work is starting to pay off and I’m really blessed to be in this position.”

Initially, it appeared that Barnwell found his fit early in the process. Prior to his sophomore campaign in June 2020, the tight end committed to Penn State University, a school that interested him very early in the process and one he had grown up watching.

“From the game atmosphere to the fan love to the amount of love they showed my family, it’s more than football up there,” Barnwell said. “Coach [James] Franklin truly cares about more than just you going to the NFL. He would rather you have a great life and be successful with a family than not succeeding in the NFL and stuff like that. He just prepares you for more than football.”

However, coaching changes on the Nittany Lions staff made him reconsider his choice. In January 2021, Barnwell made the tough decision to decommit from the program and reopen his recruitment.

“It was still really early in my recruiting process and Coach [Tyler] Bowen, the tight end coach at the time, had just left,” Barnwell said. “I felt like it was an opportunity to just open my options and go explore.”

Though Barnwell didn’t eliminate Penn State from the process, the Nittany Lions staff had a lot of work to do, rebuilding the relationship from the ground up. Despite numerous other offers coming in and plenty of attention from other programs, Penn State continued to keep close ties to the tight end, hoping to convince him that he had made the right decision the first time around.

“Penn State never, ever gave up, they never changed, they stayed the same,” Barnwell said. “They never let me go. They always stayed on me and it’s been a great ride.”

After a long process of reflection and evaluation, Barnwell was ready to make his final decision. On Sept. 25, 2021, he recommitted to Penn State, sticking with an initial decision he made over a year prior.

“It was really stress relieving not having to wake up every day wondering where I would be for four years,” Barnwell said. “When we finally committed and shut my recruitment down we were finally happy, not really stressing about anything. It’s just been great.”

In Barnwell, the Nittany Lions are getting one of the most sought after tight ends in the Class of 2023. Barnwell is ranked as the No. 389 prospect nationally and the No. 25 athlete in the entire country in 247Sports’ Composite Rankings.

Barnwell sees himself as a complete tight end, one as efficient at blocking as he is receiving. With six touchdowns receptions a year ago, the proof is in the pudding.

“They’re getting a great athlete, a great leader,” Barnwell said. “I feel like my downblocking ability on the offensive side of the ball is tremendous. … I can play pretty much anywhere the coach needs me to help the team.”

However, Barnwell compares his game to a player Nittany Lions fans are probably quite aware of, former Penn State All-American Mike Gesicki.

“I would say guys like Mike Gesicki,” Barnwell said. “People who help tremendously in the run game but when it’s time to run a route, they can do that as well.”

Mathias Barnwell Riverbend High School Bears football
Barnwell tries to emulate other tight ends like former Penn State All-American Mike Gesicki when playing. (Credit: Ava Treakle; Courtesy: Shanna Barnwell)

With his senior season quickly approaching, Barnwell wants to step up his game to an even higher level his final year.

“My expectations for myself are to be way better than I was the previous three years,” Barnwell said. “This year I think we’re really fine-tuning everything and we have a lot of people coming back so I think I will probably double [my touchdowns] and we will all be really good.”

Leading the Bears to a 9-3 record a year ago, Barnwell hopes to be able to help bring team success through his own strong play.

“I’m feeling great, it’s been a great ride all three years so far,” Barnwell said. “I feel like we have a really strong senior class and we have all worked really hard since our freshman year to turn this program around and turn it into what we have. We’re just really excited to give Coach Yates the season he deserves and we’re looking to go really far.”

While Barnwell knows that the Penn State tight end room is among the best in the country, he feels that he will be able to bring it to an even higher level. With his addition, he thinks the unit could become the best in the country.

“I think we’ve had great tight end groups for the past decade and just adding me and the two guys we have committed with me, I think we will add to that,” Barnwell said. “It is really Tight End U and they do a great job of using us in the offense, using more than one of us in the offense, so I think that will be really helpful.”

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