TOMS RIVER – Former township resident and Tampa Bay Buccaneer Super Bowl champion Darian Barnes is taking on a new challenge – trading the gridiron for a griddle as a contestant on a cooking show on the Food Network.
Darian is not an accomplished cook. In fact, he never learned how to cook. But the athlete who graduated from Toms River High School North in 1998 and was a star running back is facing a whole new contest than he had in the Super Bowl.
He had to work with some real bowls when his wife Becky started attending classes at Kean University. That meant making dinner for his four daughters and his wife. He learned it wasn’t as easy as it looked and it appeared the family was heading toward starvation.
“There was nothing I couldn’t burn,” Darian said with a laugh. “I have four children and a 2-year-old so when my wife was out of the house…I don’t know how she cooks with them in the house as it is insanity in the house.”
“When it was just me and the four of them you don’t have a lot of time to concentrate and cook. Every meal was a total dumpster fire. I always had a backup of where was I going to order if this comes out wrong. It got to the point where my 8-year-old would say why don’t you order something and stop cooking stuff altogether.”
His wife and daughters Damara, 14, Darynn, 11, Daylin, 8 and Draya, 2 cooked up a scheme they hoped might lead to Darian improving his limited cooking skills.
That plot involved secretly submitting his name as a contestant on the Food Network program “Worst Cooks In America.” His episode will air 9 p.m. Sunday, June 21, on the Food Network.
They were surprised to get a phone call in December 2019 confirming that Darian would be one of 14 contestants taking part in the 20th season of the show.
The football player knew that Becky and his daughters were fans of the program but had no idea they had conspired to get him on it. He had never watched it before being on it.
His family was thrilled to learn he was going to be a contestant and competing for a $25,000 prize. The show was taped just prior to the COVID-19 epidemic lockdown conditions.
Not only didn’t he expect to be doing this, but it was probably the last thing he wanted to do. He had no interest being on TV. His wife however made it clear that he’d be a contestant. She told him he was going. He dreaded it at the time but now he’s happy and excited about it.
Being on the show was also a confidence builder. “Fish, chicken…pretty much there is nothing I don’t feel comfortable trying to cook,” he said.
It turned out to be quite an experience for the NFL star who retired a decade ago. He was used to going out for dinner and having others provide him food. When he was in college, the cafeteria was fine. When he was dating Becky, they went out to restaurants.
Becky’s pursuit of becoming a history teacher and a student at Kean University changed the schedule in the household which put Darian into the kitchen which was a whole new game for him.
Darian said the format of the show had two chefs compete with each other. They pick teams and these teams go against each other and people are eliminated each week until the final two compete against each other from each opposing team.
He added, “it was very intensive and you are learning a lot every day. You have to remember a lot.” Both teams make the same dish and his castmates were from all over the country.
His football skills proved helpful in preparing him for the challenge. While he could not reveal the details of what occurred on the show and how it all went, he did say that while June 21 was Father’s Day he won’t have a day off from cooking. “I’ll be doing something but that’s fine.. I’ve been cooking twice a week just to keep up on it.”
While he and his family live in Rahway, he still considers Toms River to be his home.
His wife and daughters can’t wait for Darian’s friends and family to see the show and how it turned out.
The former NFL player has been teaching for the last four years and is employed as a Short Hills Montessori School teacher. He said “a couple of my friends on Instagram are aware that I will be on the show. My fellow teachers at school know. I’m past dreading seeing it. I’ve dropped a pass on national TV so I’m looking forward to it. It will be fun,” Darian said.