Kenjon Barner Q&A: Former Ducks and current Panthers back talks Oregon-Stanford
After a senior season in which he rushed for 1,767 yards with 21 touchdowns, Oregon running back Kenjon Barner was selected by the Carolina Panthers in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL draft. Barner was a focal point of the Ducks’ offense and a big part of their 12-1 campaign in 2012, which was capped by a 35-17 win over Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. Barner rushed for 143 yards in that victory.
The lone hiccup for Oregon last season was a 17-14 overtime loss to Stanford on Nov. 17, the only time the Ducks failed to score at least 35 points. Now, with Oregon eyeing another potential push at the BCS championship, Stanford and its vaunted defense stands in the way once again.
SI.com caught up with Barner before the Oregon-Stanford game on Thursday to get his thoughts on the play of quarterback Marcus Mariota, life in the NFL and the Ducks’ chances at running the table.
SI: How much Oregon football have you been able to see so far this year?
Kenjon Barner: I’ve been able to see quite a few games actually. I was able to make it out to one during our bye week so I could see it up close and personal. I’m extremely impressed with how the guys have reacted after coach [Chip] Kelly’s departure, how they’ve accepted coach [Mark] Helfrich and really bought into his program. As far as their play goes, they’re playing amazing. They’re hitting on all cylinders. Marcus [Mariota] is leading the team in the right direction, and the guys are following. You couldn’t be happier as a former player.
SI: What’s the biggest change you’ve noticed as the program transitioned from playing under Kelly to playing under Helfrich?
KB: Watching the guys, talking to the coaches, the transition has been pretty much seamless. With coach Helfrich being there, as well as everybody else on the coaching staff being there under coach Kelly, you wouldn’t expect too much to change. One change that I do see is the guys I believe are a lot looser than what we were when coach Kelly was there. Not to say that we weren’t confident or we weren’t having fun, it’s just a different type of vibe right now.
SI: It’s interesting you mention that coming into this game against Stanford. The refrain has been that the Cardinal didn’t get your best shot last year. Do you think that was the case? And do you think the guys being looser could make a difference on Thursday night?
KB: I absolutely do. I absolutely do. At the same time, taking nothing away from Stanford. Stanford came up there last year and played a hell of a ball game. They had a great defensive and offensive scheme and they capitalized on things. We didn’t capitalize. We left a few things out there on the field we wished we had gotten back. Every year we play Stanford, it’s a nail-biter.
SI: Last season’s matchup kept Oregon out of the national title game. This game is equally important. Do you have any regrets from last year? Do you think this team has what it takes to be one of the top two teams in the nation?
KB: As far as having any regrets from last season, the only regret I have is not being able to play in the national championship. Other than that, we still went to a BCS game for the fourth straight year and we came out with a win in that. You can’t be disappointed, you can’t be unhappy about the season we had. We lost one game. There are a lot of teams that wish they had lost maybe two, three, maybe four games. You can’t be disappointed in that. Do I think this year’s team can be one of the top two teams? Yeah, I believe they are. In my opinion they’re the number one team in the nation, regardless of the BCS standings or whatever else may be. I think those guys are playing great right now.
SI: What do you think about Marcus’ development from last year to this year? He’s being talked about as a Heisman candidate, and may be the favorite at this point. Did you think he was capable of playing at this level?
KB: Marcus has been playing the way that he’s playing now since he was a true freshman on the scout team. Then when he’d get reps with the ones and the twos, he was performing. Exactly what you’re seeing now is what Marcus has done all along. It’s no surprise to me or anybody else associated with the program. Marcus is one heck of a player. The Heisman voting is not a surprise to me whatsoever.
SI: What’s been the biggest change, shock or surprise in making the adjustment to the pros?
KB: The amount of time that we have. Having to be more accountable, more responsible with my time. Learning how to manage my time and do the right things when I have time off.
SI: You’ve got another Duck in the Carolina backfield in Jonathan Stewart. Have you guys gotten to know each other? Do you guys ever get together to watch Oregon play?
KB: I knew Jonathan from back when I was in school. He would always come out there, and we’d have conversations. But since I’ve been here, we’ve gotten a lot closer. I’m at his house almost every other day. We’ve definitely developed a relationship. We talk football, but more importantly we just talk life.
SI: What’s your prediction for the score tonight? How do you see the game playing out?
KB: I have no idea what the score will be, but Oregon will be on top.