On June 14, 2003, Evan Barnes' dream of playing collegiate soccer almost ended. The then-incoming Naval Academy freshman collided with a concrete pylon going 70 miles per hour in his car. The details of what followed are prefaced by Barnes with a "supposedly," as he remembers nothing immediately after the crash.
It took emergency responders 20 minutes to cut him out of the car using the jaws of life, and then he was taken by helicopter to the Ohio State Medical Center. His arm was broken, his hip was injured and his future as a cadet -- and as a goalkeeper -- was put on hold.
"The worst part was I found out I wasn't going to be able to go to Navy that year," Barnes, now a senior, recalled. "I felt like I had no real options and I was just kind of trying to get a grasp on the whole situation."
Barnes' injuries made him unable to meet the Navy's physical requirements, however; he was determined to fulfill his goal of attending the Naval Academy. With the help of the Naval Academy Alumni Foundation, Barnes enrolled at Ohio State, signing a commitment to attend Navy the following year.
The recovery process was slow, but Barnes persevered. It was months before he could even jog, but by the time the collegiate club season rolled around, Barnes was a member of the team at Ohio State. He arrived at the Naval Academy for the physically and mentally demanding "Plebe Summer" in 2004, just a year after his accident. While he had initially planned on playing soccer at Navy before his accident, Barnes did not go out for the team his first year at Annapolis.
"I wanted to kind of take a quick break and explore some of the other options, but after freshman year, I realized I'd been playing soccer since I was 4-years-old and how much a part of my life it really was," Barnes said. "So I wanted to give it one last shot."
He walked on to the team that fall, impressing coach Rich Miranda and his staff right away.
"Evan was not a recruited player, but when I first saw Evan, I thought he had All-American potential," Miranda said. "When he came to the program, he had a positive influence right from the start. He's just one of the best kids I've ever coached in my entire career of coaching. Everything he does, he does with a passion, and you know he's going to put every ounce of effort forward to do the best he can."
That kind of behavior isn't just limited to the soccer field. It carries over to the classroom and the community. Barnes maintains an A-average as an Honors Systems Engineering major. Following graduation, he plans to continue his studies in Stockholm, Sweden and has received a Rotary International scholarship to pursue his postgraduate degree, after which, he'll do his service in the Navy. He's also been involved in a number of on- and off-campus leadership and outreach activities, leaving his coach to marvel at how the goalkeeper finds time to do it all in addition to the already demanding schedule of a cadet.
His efforts have not gone unnoticed by those outside the academy walls. Late last season, Barnes was the first recipient of the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award for men's soccer. The award, as Lowe's senior vice president of marketing and advertising Bob Gfeller put it, "focuses on the total student-athlete."
"Nationwide, talented athletes compete every day, but Lowe's believes those individuals who are equally dedicated in the classroom and in their communities make the real difference with their abilities," he added.
It was fitting as Barnes said it's his competitive drive that keeps him going -- even in the face of physical adversity, something Barnes has become too familiar with during the last few years. In addition to overcoming the injuries sustained in his car accident, Barnes' junior season ended prematurely after he tore his ACL.
"I know a lot of athletes kind of look at that as a serious career-ending injury or something like that, but I had already been through much worse after my accident, so I kind of just looked at it as another obstacle to overcome, and I knew if I worked hard enough I'd be back on the field playing again," Barnes said.
He was this past fall, starting nine games for the Midshipmen and posting a 1.38 goals against average.
"That's Evan," Miranda said. "He may have setbacks, but his commitment and determination and he has the passion that really sets the standard for any student-athlete at any level. That's what he's really all about. ... You know down the road no matter what he does, he's going to be successful."
While that path for Barnes may appear to lead toward a career in the business sector -- he plans to pursue an M.S. in entrepreneurship and innovation management -- as opposed to the soccer sphere, the skills that have made him a standout goalkeeper at Navy should serve him well.
Maria Burns Ortiz covers college soccer for ESPNsoccernet. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.