SE: Community Service Builds Barnett into More than a Player

In another country for the first time, Dante Barnett reaffirmed a lesson he’s received throughout his years as a student-athlete: life is not always as bad as it seems.  

Barnett, with 15 other Kansas State student-athletes, spent nine days in Costa Rica this summer for the “Cats Across Continents” community service project. During their time there for the Courts for Kids initiative, Barnett and his fellow Wildcats experienced what life in a developing country is like. 

No cell phone service. No Wi-Fi. And that’s just scratching the surface. 

“A lot of times, we complain as student-athletes about practice or how things are going,” Barnett said at Big 12 Media Days in Dallas, “but there was a kid over there who said he woke up at 4 a.m., every day before school just to make sure he did his chores, like milk the cow, make sure the chickens were fed and different things we take for granted just because we have to wake up at 5 a.m., to go run.”

“And they love running,” he added. 

Barnett faced adversity as a student-athlete in the 2015 season opener against South Dakota, sustaining an injury in the first half and missing the rest of the season. Self-pity and debilitation could’ve taken over, but they didn’t. 

His experiences with community service certainly helped him keep a positive attitude. 

“You quickly learn things are not as bad,” he said, pointing to his cultural experience in Costa Rica, where the Wildcats helped build a multipurpose court, as a reinforcing point for his perspective. “We got to learn a lot about another country and ourselves. If you ever mix cement manually, it’s pretty tough, and it was a long day’s work. The living conditions weren’t that great, but we had a great time. We made the most out of our opportunity.”

When he was granted a medical redshirt and a second senior season, Barnett made it a point to make the most out of it. 

“You can’t take things for granted,” he said. “I had (football) taken away, so now when I approach the game, every time I step onto the field I want to play to the best of my abilities and leave that sense that I was a great player.”

Barnett, with a team-best 181 career tackles and seven interceptions, has already left enough of impression across college football to earn a spot on watch lists for the Bednarik Award and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, both intended to recognize the top college defensive player in the country. 

More important, at least to him, is being placed on watch list for the Wuerffel Trophy, known as “College Football’s Premier Award for Community Service,” and a nominee for the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Good Works Team. 

“He’s one of those young guys where he has a value system in place where he wants to help other people,” K-State head coach Bill Snyder said of Barnett, marking the eighth Wildcat inclusion on the AFCA list in the last nine years. 

The latter awards mean something extra, Barnett said, because it encompasses more than performances on the field. 

“You can’t just be a great athlete, you also have to be a great person off the field,” he said. “You want to go out there and show you can also be a good role model to the community.”

In his time at K-State, Barnett has exemplified the desire to give back to the community. This started when the Tulsa, Oklahoma, native was younger and would see high-profile players from the area return to talk at his schools or to his teams. 

“My friends and I always talked about one day we wanted to give back. I remember when we first went off to college, we saw how many people followed us and our journey to college and how many people supported us during our season,” Barnett said, making his second straight appearance on the Wuerffel Trophy watch list. “So during breaks (in college) we would go back and people would ask, ‘Hey, can you come talk to our high school,’ or, ‘Can you come talk to all the boys in my middle school?’ and we would go and talk to them. I think it started there and it’s only grown.” 

In Manhattan, Barnett’s community-service activities have included Cats in the Classroom (volunteer work at local elementary schools), Senior Cats (spending time at local retirement homes) and Adopt-a-Family during the holiday season. 

Barnett said all of the community service reflects K-State’s consistent reference to “family.” It also follows K-State Athletics’ second goal of bringing Value to the University, Community and State.

“K-State keeps you busy doing (community service),” he added, “but it’s not just for show, they really mean something to Kansas State.”

For him, it’s about continuing the model he witnessed growing up of influencing youth in a positive way. 

“I really love giving back to kids because they have so many dreams, they’re so young and they just need to see good role models at that age,” he said. “I remember when I was in their shoes and I looked up to different players in the community. Being able to give back now, I just hope I can impact a number of kids.” 

We hope you enjoy K-State Sports Extra. We would like to hear your comments and any story ideas for future emails, so fire them our way. Contact Corbin McGuire, or K-State Associate AD for Communications Kenny Lannou. To receive the K-State Sports Extra email, sign up here