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Oconee Enterprise Athlete of the Week- Khalil Barnes

Khalil Barnes caps freshman season in Gator Bowl win

Former north Oconee High School star Khalil Barnes finished his exceptional freshman season at Clemson on Dec. 29 in the Gator Bowl.

Barnes and the Tigers capped 2023 with a 38-35 victory over Kentucky, Clemson’s fifth straight victory after starting 4-4. Barnes had seven tackles and a forced fumble against the wildcats, once again showcasing a nose for the football.

For the season, Barnes finished with 38 tackles, three forced fumbles and three interceptions. Though the Clemson defense didn’t have its best overall performance of the season against Kentucky, that was largely a result of some starters in the secondary missing due to opting out or entering the transfer portal. Players being thrust into the lineup at cornerback led to the wildcats finding some success against blown coverages by the Tigers.

Reflecting on his freshman season, Barnes said postgame that he didn’t expect to have the impact he had in 2023, being named a freshman all-american by The athletic, and was just trying to get on the field however he could to open the season. Once he got his opportunity, he never looked back.

“It was crazy for sure. I had a pretty good fall camp so I thought I was going to play a lot in the Duke game but didn’t. with injuries, I was able to see my way onto the field,” Barnes said. “Just take the blessing for what it is, got on the field against FA

Khalil Barnes Clemson v Kentucky

Clemson defensive back Khalil Barnes celebrates after making a play in the Gator Bowl. [Photo by Jackson Jones/courtesy Clemson Athletics]

U, made some plays, then all the games throughout the year, felt like the game just slowed down for me.” Looking ahead to next season, Barnes will be seen as one of the key returning pieces for Clemson’s defense, with expectations now set even higher for him after his performance in 2023.

Oconee Physical Therapy & Sports Rehabilitation/Oconee Enterprise Athlete of the Week is chosen by the sports staff of The Oconee Enterprise. Anyone may email nominations to sportseditor@ by Monday at 10 a.m. Oconee Physical Therapy & Sports Rehabilitation can be reached at

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