CHAMPAIGN — Old photographs of Bryce Barnes — even those snapped as recently as early June — show the former Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley standout sporting a short, yet apparent head of blond hair.
These days, Barnes has little more than stubble atop his dome.
It’s part of the territory that came with trading in GCMS red and black for Illinois football’s orange and blue in his new role as an Illini tight end.
“(My hair is) in the toilet or wherever they put it in the hotel,” Barnes said Tuesday during the team’s media day at Memorial Stadium. “Luke (Ford) and Bobby (Walker) ... they said, ‘Hey, we’re shaving our heads first day of camp.’
“At that time I said, ‘You’re crazy. I’m not doing that. There ain’t no way.’”
Barnes obviously relented, describing it as something he can look back on thinking, “That was a stupid idea, but man was that funny.”
It’s among the ways the two-time IHSA state champion is fitting in with his new program.
The one from which he received a walk-on offer a week after helping GCMS to a 35-16 Class 2A state title win over Maroa-Forsyth — on the Memorial Stadium turf.
“It’s fantastic,” Barnes said of his transition to Division I football. “This program has done a lot of great things in the past. They talked about this year being the year to step up and improve.”
That’s meant hitting the weight room even harder than he did with the Falcons, as well as regular discussions with Illinois associate director of sports nutrition Sebastian Zorn.
The results are apparent.
The 6-foot-2 Barnes is up to 245 pounds, a gain of 20 pounds from last November. Even his former Falcon pals, when seeing pictures of Barnes online, can’t help but notice a change in Barnes’ physique.
“I’m a lot thicker, I guess you could say. I’m bigger,” Barnes said. “(The staff has) done a great job of working with me and working with everybody, building them up, creating bodies that they never thought they could have.”
The next step is to “break more body fat off me and build more muscle,” something Barnes expects to approach full bore next offseason.
Presently, the focus is upon preparing for the Aug. 31 season opener versus Akron.
Back when he first arrived on the Champaign-Urbana campus, however, Barnes’ role with the Illini wasn’t so clear.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to play tight end or defensive end or linebacker when I came in,” Barnes said. “Then Coach (Cory) Patterson, I really kicked it off with him and I’ve really liked him, and I think tight end’s the path to go.”
Barnes and Bloomington native Griffin Moore are the lone freshmen currently listed among Illinois’ tight ends crop. The newcomers join the likes of seniors like Walker and Justice Williams, as well as junior Griffin Palmer.
“I’m really not worried about the playing time right now,” Barnes said. “I’m worried about ... getting all my footwork down, getting the plays down.”
To that point, Barnes feels it’s beneficial that he and Moore work alongside multiple veterans.
“We get to learn all these tactics and ways to do things, and it’s really going to help prepare us and ultimately help us down the road when we’re juniors or seniors,” Barnes said. “Maybe even next year as sophomores.”
Whenever Barnes gets his first taste of in-game action at Memorial Stadium, it no doubt will bring about memories of his last time playing in the facility.
Instead of contributing on both sides of the ball at tight end and linebacker, like he did with GCMS, Barnes will suit up in the former position for his hometown college.
“My first envision was my whole community in the stands cheering us on as (we were) competing for the state championship,” Barnes said. “But then I really thought, ‘Man, this is my home for the next four years.’ It’s an amazing feeling.”