"I just weighed all the pros and cons with the two schools," he said. "This was the best thing for me and my family.
"Distance was part of the decision. I didn't want it to be a factor, but it was. I want my family to be able to come see me play on a regular basis."
For his mother, Cynthia, Penn State's graduation rate "was real important." According to data released last year by the NCAA, Penn State football student-athletes enrolled from 2000 to 2003 earned a graduation success rate of 84 percent, tied for No. 12 among the nation's Football Bowl Subdivision schools.
Cynthia Barnes added, "We can see Deion play seven times a year. We have a minivan all ready. We already know where we're going to park it."
Barnes had narrowed his list to five schools, with South Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Michigan being the other finalists. He ruled out Pitt and Michigan after Pitt administrators forced coach Dave Wannstedt to resign last month and Michigan fired coach Rich Rodriguez earlier this month.
Since Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno is 84 years old and could soon call it quits, Barnes knows the bespectacled legend might not be around for his entire college career.
"I talked to him a few times, but I'm the closest with Larry Johnson, the defensive-line coach," Barnes said. "As long as he's there, it'll all be good. Larry Johnson is the guy I'm going to learn under on a daily basis and who I'll be around the most for the next four years."
Johnson recently completed his 15th season with the Nittany Lions. He has produced six first-team all-Americans.
"He's a real down-to-earth guy, honest, and his resumé speaks for itself," Barnes said. "He gives you the tools to succeed. It's your job to do the rest."
Tom Bradley, Penn State's defensive coordinator and a 32-year member of Paterno's staff, was a candidate to fill vacancies at Pitt and Connecticut. The Panthers and Huskies went with Todd Graham, formerly of Tulsa, and Paul Pasqualoni, most recently interim defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys, respectively.
"We shook hands when I took my visit in December, but that was about it," Barnes, who lives near Broad Street and Erie Avenue in North Philly, said of Bradley. "I didn't really think too much about the stuff that's going on with him. I'm going to be coached mostly by Larry Johnson."
Last season, Barnes helped lead Northeast to a 9-3 record and its first Public League championship since 1983. In the final against George Washington, doubling as a tight end, he caught a 5-yard touchdown pass with three minutes to play as the Vikings triumphed, 13-6.
"That showed what kind of athlete he is," Northeast coach Chris Riley said. "I didn't expect anything less of him, and that's why we put him in those spots."
At Penn State, Barnes, an Inquirer first-team all-Southeastern Pennsylvania selection, is projected to play defensive end.
His father, Robert, a defensive back and wide receiver at Olney High in the mid-1970s, took part in last month's trek to State College. Of Paterno, he said: "He's still got all his wits about him. He's very sharp."
Mark Richt, Georgia's 10th-year coach, was in town last week to see Barnes and visit with his family. Michigan State also made a late push.
"In college, they'll throw 20 or 30 pounds on Deion in seconds," Riley said. "When that happens, he can write his own ticket. He's focused, has a conscience and a desire to be the best at his position."
Contact staff writer Rick O'Brien at 610-313-8019