Two former Lincoln County football players sat in the stands at Nashville’s LP Field watching an NFL game on Monday night.
Nothing particularly unusual about that, of course.
But the fact that Alex Bradford and Logan Rhodes were watching two more Red Devils teammates play for the Tennessee Titans defies the law of averages.
Brandon Barden and Jarius Wynn haven’t played on the same team since Lincoln County’s 2004 Class A semifinal loss to Clinch County in the Georgia Dome. But there they were, dressed for the Titans and taking on the New York Jets on Monday Night Football.
There’s no real way to figure out the statistical likelihood of two teammates from Georgia’s smallest high school classification suiting up on the 53-man roster of the same NFL team, but safe to say it stretched the realm of probability to those sitting around hearing Bradford and Rhodes brag about it.
“Nobody could believe them when they were telling people they were teammates with Jarius and Brandon,” said Becky Barden, Brandon’s mother and a former school principal in Lincolnton. “It’s kind of a shock with the odds of being in the NFL period, much less the same team. Everybody was kind of surprised with that.”
Lincoln County has produced some top-tier football talent in the 44 years that Larry Campbell has coached for the Red Devils, but even the winningest coach in Georgia high school history never thought he’d see the day when a couple of them wore the same uniform at the NFL level.
“That’s a good story,” Campbell said Monday before the Titans kicked off an national television. “Two kids playing for the same NFL team. I don’t know how many Class A schools in the nation have ever had that.”
The only two Red Devils currently active in the NFL appreciate the situation.
“There’s so many different routes that could have happened,” said Barden, who made his NFL debut on special teams Monday night. “For us to be on the same small-town team in Lincolnton, play against each other in college and now be on the same team in the NFL is kind of weird and special at the same time. Just because of how small our little community is.”
Barden was a sophomore when Wynn was a senior for the Red Devils. Wynn went off to Georgia Military College for two seasons while Barden led Lincoln County to consecutive state championships in 2005-06.
The next time they would encounter each other was as opponents in the Southeastern Conference when Barden’s Vanderbilt team faced Wynn’s Georgia squad in Athens in 2008.
Wynn was drafted by the Green Bay Packers at defensive end in 2009 and earned a Super Bowl ring in 2010. He was released on the final cuts in Green Bay this season after dealing with some Bell’s Palsy issues over the summer. He tried out for the Titans in September and finally signed in November. In five games with the Titans, Wynn has five tackles and two sacks. He played on Monday, but did not make a tackle.
Barden went undrafted after graduating as the second leading receiving tight end for Vanderbilt in 2011, but signed a free-agent contract across Nashville with the Titans. On the second day of training camp, he pulled a hamstring and got only a few snaps in the final preseason game before getting cut and re-signed to the practice squad.
“It was kind of scary,” he said. “I had done pretty well over the summer and they told me when I got hurt they weren’t going to give up on me. But it’s a business and you never know if that injury is going to push the team over the edge and they get rid of you.”
His 13 weeks on the practice squad were almost the equivalent of a red-shirt season.
“You get humbled but then again you get to go our there against the starters every day and practice,” Barden said. “You don’t want to go out there and look bad. So you end up working harder and getting better at your craft. I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t got hurt, but I feel like maybe it was a blessing in disguise.”
When Titans starting tight end Jared Cook suffered a shoulder injury in Week 14, Barden was activated to the 53-man roster for the final three games of the regular season. It’s a nice salary bump as well as a chance to prove himself.
“I wouldn’t have drawn it up this way,” he said.
“After you work with guys for awhile you never want them to get hurt, especially one of your friends. But this is now my opportunity and I have to make the most of it. It’s just a stepping stone for where I want to go. I have goals of being one of the best in the league and that’s what I honestly feel I can be one day.”
Barden didn’t take any offensive snaps against the Jets, with his goal-line packages never needing to be called. But he saw action blocking on every kickoff and punt return team.
“I was actually on the opening kickoff return,” he said. “I feel like that kind of helped me because I went and got the first play out of the way. It was more excitement than nerves. Hopefully the more I play the more they’ll trust me and let me do more and more.”
Barden’s late-season opportunity mirrors another local player on the Titans, Fernando Velasco. The former Jefferson County and Georgia offensive lineman spent all of 2008 and 14 games of 2009 on the practice squad before getting called up and sticking to the roster.
“He’s been a good guy to lean on and talk to about that,” Barden said.
Whatever becomes of these late-season opportunities for Barden and Wynn in the long-term, little changes when it comes to Lincoln County. When Barden came home in mid-November during the bye week, the first call when his car pulled up to his mother’s house came from the neighbors across the street, the Campbells.
“It’s kind of funny, I get into town and he puts me straight to work moving some Christmas trees around,” Barden said of his old coach. “It was actually his wife, coach Connie.”
A couple of NFL teammates from Lincolnton understand it’s a small-town world.