SAN DIEGO — The coach was desperate when he moved Lew Barnes from cornerback to wide receiver in 1982.
Barnes was at San Diego Mesa College at the time and his coach, Len Smorin, had been stripped of his wide receivers by injuries. Smorin thought he would try Barnes.
However, Barnes was not sure if the move was right for him.
"He wanted to stay on defense," Smorin said this week, "because he didn't really know the offense. But he sure has blossomed."
The ultimate beneficiary has been the University of Oregon. Barnes, the Ducks' leading receiver for the last 2 1/2 years, is on the cover of Oregon's 1985 media guide. What's more, he is featured on 14-sided polygons that have popped up in the mail boxes of the nation's media.
"I never dreamed this would happen," Barnes said. "There's no way I could perceive my life taking this pattern."
The attention has been earned.
Barnes is the teeter-totter of Oregon, which will play San Diego State on Saturday night at Jack Murphy Stadium. When he's up, the team is up. When he's down, the team is down. Evidence:
In Oregon's two wins, Barnes has 15 receptions for 248 yards and 3 touchdowns. In Oregon's four losses, he has 13 receptions for 129 yards and 1 touchdown.
"He's the most talented receiver I've been around on the college level," said Oregon Coach Rich Brooks, a former NFL assistant. "He has unbelievable speed and quickness. He's a big-play guy. We need him to perform at peak level to win games."
Barnes' talents have been recognized by All-Pacific 10 Conference honors in 1983 and 1984, first as a kick returner and then as a wide receiver. He already has been invited to the East-West Shrine Game in Palo Alto on Jan. 11.
Though Barnes is described as outgoing by past and present coaches, he's not very impressed by the football limelight. He doesn't even have any of the pop-ups that Oregon's sports information department has distributed.
"It's not something I'm going to walk around with," he said. "I might get one after the season to keep in a trophy case. It made me feel appreciated when they made those. My mom's the one who has a lot of those. I don't even know how many she has. She's like a promoter."
Steve Hellyer, Oregon's sports information director, is another big Barnes promoter. Hellyer spent an estimated $5,000 in promotional campaigns on Barnes before the season.
Hellyer was hoping Barnes would gain off-the-field exposure by pushing him as an All-America candidate, but he also has had considerable attention on the field.
"I've been facing a lot of double coverage," Barnes said. "People are shutting me off on routes I used to get open on. Somebody will be out to slow me off the line, and somebody will play me deep."
Barnes often goes deep, averaging 17.2 yards per reception in his Oregon career. He has caught a pass in all 27 of his Oregon games, and his 16 career touchdowns are two shy of tying Ahmad Rashad's school record set when Rashad was known as Bobby Moore.
As a sophomore, Barnes had 30 receptions for 625 yards and 5 touchdowns. As a junior, he had 37 receptions for 634 yards and 7 touchdowns. In 1985, he has 28 receptions for 377 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Barnes says much of his success can be attributed to his days as a defensive back.
"I know how defensive backs have to play," he said. "Most of the time, I know where they're supposed to be and how they will cover me."
At Lincoln High, Barnes had all of the positions covered. He played flanker, tailback and safety, returned punts and kickoffs and kicked extra points and field goals.
"When he played for me, he was Mr. Everything," said Vic Player, who coached Barnes at Lincoln. "He never came off the field. I remember one game when he returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown. I didn't have the presence of mind to take him out of the ballgame. He squib-kicked the extra point because he was too tired."
Player marvels at Barnes' durability. In high school, Barnes was 5-foot 7-inches and weighed 150 pounds. He's now 5-9 and weighs 170.
"To be honest, I'm surprised he's making it at the college level with his size," Player said. "He's getting the most he can out of that body."
Barnes also has been getting the most he can from a position he once wished he didn't have to play.
Lew Barnes is among four San Diegans playing for Oregon. Others are defensive end Matt Brock (University City High), linebacker Jerry Mikels (Poway High) and cornerback Cliff Hicks (Kearny High, Mesa College). Barnes and Brock are starters and Mikels and Hicks are listed as second-stringers . . . Charger quarterback Dan Fouts is Oregon's all-time leading passer with 5,995 yards from 1970 to 1972 . . . Bill Byrne, Oregon's athletic director, was an assistant athletic director at San Diego State from 1980 to 1982 . . . The Aztec Athletic Foundation will have a luncheon at noon today at the Stadium Club at Jack Murphy Stadium. The luncheon is open to the public and costs $10 per person.
LEW BARNES IN 1985
Opponent Rec. Yds TD Washington St. (Won, 42-39) 8 120 2 Colorado (Lost, 21-17) 2 13 0 Stanford (Won, 45-28) 7 128 1 Nebraska (Lost, 63-0) 1 2 0 Washington (Lost, 19-13) 7 79 1 California (Lost, 27-24) 3 35 0