By: Ryan Gasser, sports information director
COLUMBUS, Ohio – The lights have not been turned off on David Barnett, not yet anyway.
The Capital University record-setting wide receiver is looking to continue his football career, professionally. With his career playing for the Purple and White complete, David Barnett (Springfield, Ohio / Shawnee) has secured an opportunity to play in Regionalliga, a tiered professional American football organization under the umbrella of the German Football League, this summer.
Barnett, a four-time All-OAC selection and holder of two career Capital football records, has entered an agreement to suit up for the Ritterhude Badgers, located near Hamburg, Germany. He will be one of the few Americans permitted on the roster to compete in the relegation football league.
THE BIG IDEA
The idea of pursuing a football career beyond Capital came to Barnett prior to the start of his senior season. With the full support of his family, he began researching and found the website of an organization dedicated to connecting players seeking international opportunities called Europlayers. Barnett then started building connections with coaches and teams that may have a shared interest in him and his abilities.
Barnett likened the process to join the league and the Badgers to the college recruiting process in that contact is made with coaches and then the player and team gauge the relationship to see if it will be a good fit. The team staff will review film and make contact, if interested, and then information sharing begins until there is an offer and acceptance.
"It's for the love of the game," said Barnett. "Especially after this season didn't go the way anyone wanted, I just kind of felt like I have unfinished business. I have come to the reality that I'm not going to the NFL, XFL, or CFL, so this is my best chance to be able to play professionally and see the world, so it's kind of a win-win for me."
With the research in hand, the communication lines were revived in December to more actively pursue opportunities in one of the many American football leagues across Europe. Barnett had options after receiving offers from teams in the Czech Republic, Sweden and Italy, to name a few. However, Barnett found the offer, honesty and transparency from Ritterhude head coach Benjamin "Benno" Crljenkovic most attractive to pursue. On February 8, he inked the deal that would grant him the opportunity to play professionally.
When asked about the feeling of signing with Ritterhude, Barnett said he felt, "Joy. It was a surreal moment. I never thought this was a possibility until this year. It was a really cool moment but then you have to get back to reality fast, but I enjoyed it for a little bit."
Barnett explained that the deal, which is one of the better deals for a foreign player, breaks down to a base pay of approximately 500 euros ($544 USD) per month, plus a round-trip plane ticket, free housing, Wifi, transportation, medical insurance, gym access, apparel and certain pieces of equipment. The only expenses he anticipates are a few groceries and the travel he plans on partaking in.
"I want to see the world. I want to go to Rome. I want to go to the Czech Republic. I want to see the major historical points in Germany. There is so much you can see over there and you can travel cheap. So that's really nice. Going to Europe that may happen … never, maybe once in a lifetime, more than that if you're lucky. There is no better way to see the world, basically for free, than what I'm doing," said Barnett.
The German Football League (GFL) plays exclusively within the country but is one of many European leagues that play American football. The rules are nearly identical to what is played at the NCAA level and the competition is most comparable to high-level NCAA Division III play. Many domestic players do not consider the GFL a "professional league" and the demands are not the same with practices held just 2-3 times per week. Typically, imported Americans or European players beyond the German borders are the only players to be paid or receive additional accommodations for their play.
Much like international soccer (European football), most notably the English Premier League, the GFL is designed as a relegation league. The GFL is built into three tiers: the GFL1, GFL2, and Regionalliga (from highest to lowest). Teams play their respective season and the winners of the bottom two divisions are advanced to the next highest tier the following year. The last place teams in the top two divisions are dropped down one tier.
Adding to the challenge, the GFL permits only eight "imports" (non-European players) on a team at any one time. Only six of those eight are allowed to dress in a single game and only two of those players are allowed on the field at the same time.
Ritterhude is currently playing in the lowest of the three tiers but has spent time competing in the GFL2, previously. In 2015, Ritterhude won the North Division championship out of Regionalliga's Northern region.
While Barnett's highly-anticipated adventure has been put into question for summer 2020 with the global outbreak of the Coronavirus, the door is far from closed. The league is continuing its examination of the virus' presence in and around Germany and has yet to make a decision to cancel or postpone the upcoming season. A decision should be delivered in mid-April regarding the 2020 campaign.
Even if the German Football League encounters the same fate as many professional and amateur sports leagues in the United States, Barnett is already fielding offers for the summer of 2021. His tall and bulky frame plus his sure-handedness has international suitors lined up and waiting for the global pandemic to subside in order to toss touchdown passes to the 6-foot, 3-inch, 215-pound wideout.
THE PLAN … FOR NOW
The 2020 season is set to begin on April 26 but team activities have been suspended until April 30 (according to the team's website), signaling a delay in the start of the season. Barnett and the Honey Badgers will compete in 10 games that will carry them through the month of August. With Barnett still finishing online classes at Capital for the spring semester, he will not be able to leave for Germany until April 23 at the earliest, pending U.S. travel bans. However, once he arrives it is all business.
"For me, the goal is the same as it is over here," said Barnett. "Just go out and compete and do what I do, to know that I am doing my best to help my team and that I can control what I can control. As long as I do that and not worry about what I can't control, I think I am going to be alright."
If the league keeps the date of its season opener it would be an incredibly short turnaround to game time for Barnett. He would have just short of three days to arrive in Germany, get situated into his shared home, meet his new teammates, maybe get in a practice or training session, and then hit the field for game one. Due to the competitive nature of the league's teams and fear that he may play elsewhere the following year, he will not have the chance to review his playbook until he arrives in Ritterhude.
Until then, Barnett will continue to train as much as he possibly can. The limitations on access to gyms and equipment have presented a challenge but has not made it impossible to prepare for his GFL debut, whenever that will be.
"It is hard," said Barnett. "There have been a lot of at-home workouts. The sprinting outside and just getting conditioned hasn't been hindered too much, but just the weight lifting … at-home workouts can only do so much for your body. Not having weights has been an issue but I've been trying to make the most of it."
While his playing career at Capital is complete after a highly successful four-year career that includes CU records for most career receptions (205) and receiving yards (2,890), his days as a student are far from done. He will return to Bexley in the fall of 2020 to complete his final year as an education major, which will also include student teaching at an area elementary or middle school prior to a potential return to the GFL in Spring 2021.