Longtime wrestling fan and former Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle T.J. Barnes recently tried out for World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) at the company's developmental facility in Orlando, Florida.
The former Georgia Tech star grew up watching the likes of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin in the ring. Barnes will find out in the coming weeks if he will get the opportunity to follow in his childhood heroes' footsteps.
As he awaits the WWE's decision, the 6-foot-7, 364-pound big man has already thought about who his dream opponents would be in the squared circle.
"Right now, even though he's not wrestling full-time, it would have to be Brock Lesnar ... and probably Roman Reigns, only because we went to the same school [at Georgia Tech]," Barnes said to First Coast News during a phone interview on Monday.
Barnes rubbed elbows with fellow giants and former WWE titleholders, Mark Henry and Matt "A Train" Bloom, during his June workout. Henry, a power lifter-turned-Hall of Fame wrestler, gave the football player some advice during his visit at the WWE performance center.
"Just really improving my technique and how to run the ropes," Barnes said about the tips Henry gave him. "That was probably the hardest thing for me because it was something I'd never done. I [was] thinking that running the ropes is easy but it was a lot harder than it seems. [Henry] was just telling me how to really sit on the ropes and not put my butt on it ... because it's tough for a big man, being 6-7, to just lean on the ropes."
Following stints with the Jaguars, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs, Barnes spent last season out of the NFL. He took a one-week trip to Canada to workout for the CFL and coached at a pair of Marietta, Georgia high schools to keep busy.
The big-bodied defensive lineman first linked up with the WWE following an arm wrestling contest in Las Vegas last year.
"Really it was just [the WWE] staying consistent with calling me," Barnes said.
"Just [saying] 'really, you should do it, what's the worst that could happen?' And it was something I always wanted to do as a kid ... I just didn't know the avenues to really take to wrestling. Being a big kid, nobody wants you to do the Tombstone piledriver or the stunner on them, so I just took football and basketball and other sports to really do at the moment and the opportunity just presented itself."
While Barnes was open to the tryout and a wrestling career, he is not finished with his football aspirations. He plans to try out for the Alliance of American Football (AAF) in August, as he wants his daughter to be able to watch him play the game he loves.
"I'm not done with football, I'm still training and whatnot," Barnes said. "And I think with the WWE, going down there for the tryout, it just really opened my eyes up to what's really hard work again ... because I've been out of football for almost a year now, and throughout the process, I was down on myself. Just going through that tryout, [I thought] this is really what hard work is and we really need to get back into [training]."
When Barnes decides to move on from football, he hopes to grapple with another challenge. He wants to explore the wrestling business and looks forward to what the future holds in that industry.
"I would just need to get in a little bit better shape and go to a wrestling school," Barnes said. "When I do something I want to do it right and do it to the best of my ability. So I'd probably just go to a wrestling school and really just learn because I know they have one here in Atlanta. Just really learn different bumps, moves and really just how to do it the right way and go to another tryout and get signed."
Follow Mike Kaye on Twitter: @Mike_E_Kaye.