Barnes likens his football game to the Chargers’ Antonio Gates.
(Sam Forencich/NBAE/Getty Images)

You may know Matt Barnes as a dynamic and versatile basketball player for the Suns, but what you may not know, is that he might not even be playing his best sport.

It turns out that the 6-7 small forward was quite the prodigy as a high school football player, garnering All-American honors as a prep wide receiver. After competing against future NFL players such as Donte Stallworth, Onterrio Smith, J.T. O’Sullivan and Paul Warren, he was recruited by every top-tier football program in the country.

Comparing his style of play to a “faster Antonio Gates,” Barnes scored 28 touchdowns as a senior, which was more than any other receiver in the country. Even today, he lists that feat as his most memorable from high school.

“To lead the nation in anything, sports-wise, is a good accomplishment,” Barnes said.

Although growing up a huge San Francisco 49ers fan that idolized famed receiver Jerry Rice, Barnes elected to trade in his shoulder pads for high-tops when UCLA signed him out of Del Campo High School in Sacramento, CA. UCLA was one of the few colleges that didn’t want Barnes to play both sports, a decision that he would augment if he could do it all over again.

“Although I’m happy where I’m at now, that’s something I wish I really got the chance to do,” Barnes said. “No one has ever been able to play both and that’s something I wish I could’ve strived to do.”

Being that football was his first love, there are some things that he misses about playing the game.

“I miss the contact and 100,000 people screaming for you,” Barnes said. “Basketball is a great atmosphere, but with football, there are just so many people out there cheering, even in cold weather.”

Although Barnes is from the Bay Area, he has quickly become an Arizona Cardinals fan.

“The Cardinals look really good,” he said. “They really shut down the Falcons. I think as long as they play their game and as long as (Kurt) Warner makes sure the Cardinals don’t commit too many turnovers, I think they have a chance.”

So here are Matt’s picks for this week:

Baltimore vs. Tennessee
Matt’s pick: Baltimore

San Diego vs. Pittsburgh
Matt’s pick: Pittsburgh
Matt’s thoughts: “San Diego is banged up.”

Philadelphia vs. New York
Matt’s thoughts: “That’s going to be a really good game, but I say it’ll be the Eagles, because I like (Donovan) McNabb.”

Arizona vs. Carolina

Matt’s pick: Arizona

Matt’s verdict: “It’s going to an all-Pennsylvania Super Bowl.”

Stay tuned for his Super Bowl predictions…

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