The family man under center

Blake Barnett and his wife Maddie are finding the balance between sports and family. ORACLE PHOTO/NOLAN BROWN

If someone were to tell a young Blake Barnett that at age 23 he’d be married, have a son and be playing college football, he’d probably tell them they were crazy.

But now in his senior year at USF, he’s doing just that.

About four years ago, Barnett, who was a recent graduate of Santiago High School in Corona, California, at the time, met his now-wife Maddie Barnett at the 2015 Under Armour All-America Game at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.

“We had connected over Instagram at the time like every young kid does nowadays,” Blake said. “I let her know I was going to be there and ironically, she was going to be in Bradenton because her grandmother lives there.”

Maddie, deep into her professional surfing career at the time, was sponsored by Under Armour and was invited to be a spokesperson at the event. She reached out to her team manager and was able to get tickets to the game.

Blake and Maddie met at the game and began dating shortly after. After a year of a mostly long-distance relationship, Blake proposed to Maddie and they became engaged in 2016.

“He was so supportive from a distance,” Maddie said. “I think the main thing I learned was that distance definitely made the heart grow fonder.”

Two years later, the Barnetts tied the knot.

Blake and Maddie, who were in their early 20s at the time of their marriage, faced a considerable amount of criticism for their relatively early union. 

“I’ve had more than enough of negative comments and jibber-jabber on Twitter since I was a freshman in college,” Blake said. “It’s nothing that gets to me or fazes me.”

Both Maddie and Blake’s parents supported their decision, however.

“Our parents approved, which was important,” Blake said. “At the same time, we’re both adults … if we wanted to do it we were going to do it regardless. But both of our families were welcoming.”

Seven months after their marriage, the Barnetts had their son Brooks. For Maddie in particular, the journey wasn’t easy in the beginning.

“I think the hardest part was going from a professional athlete, constantly on the road and traveling to living in Tempe, Arizona, not knowing anybody and having faith that everything was going to turn out fine,” Maddie said. “But I was just nine months pregnant in Arizona.”

Adding Brooks to the mix has been a worthwhile endeavor for the Barnetts and has certainly spiced up their lives.

“He’s a really good baby, he’s very happy, but he’s at the stage right now where he always has to be moving and running around going nuts,” Blake said.

Having a baby in the house led to a career change for Maddie. She has temporarily put her surfing career on hold while trying to balance motherhood and the pursuit of her career. She knows that the door is always open for her to return but is waiting for the right time.

“I think I’m starting to learn that it’s super important, being a mom, going from a very independent professional sport to going where you give your whole life to one little tiny human,” Maddie said. “I’m learning how to balance that.”

Blake also understands the struggle that came with balancing football, going to college, being a faithful husband and supporting his family.

“We both pretty much understood that while we were kind of in the peaks of our careers at that moment, we understood it was going to be long-distance and we pretty much understood that from the very beginning,” Blake said. “Luckily, in the early stages of our relationship, we were able to find the little times off that we had to be able to spend time together.”

As relatively notable figures — Blake is especially in the limelight with his plans to play professionally, plus both Maddie and Blake have more than 40,000 followers on Instagram — the next challenge for the Barnetts is upholding a reputation in the public eye while also keeping private lives.

“I try to be genuine,” Blake said, “I’m the same person every day through and through, as with [Maddie].”

Being transparent and genuine on social media is the goal for Blake.

“We’re not trying to be someone we’re not, we’re just trying to show the lives that we live,” Blake said. “We’re very happy, we live an awesome life. We’re extremely fortunate and we’re very happy.”

Starting a family is often hard for a lot of young couples, especially when the two parents are also living as athletes. But Maddie is in it for the long haul.

“I’m 21 and he’s 23,” Maddie said. “One day we’re going to be hanging out in our 40s, so it’s not going to be as hard in our later years.”

Despite the trials and tribulations the Barnetts have faced, Maddie is optimistic about the future.

“I feel like it’s been so chaotic, but it’s been so awesome to see the growth of both Brooks and Blake,” Maddie said. “The joys outweigh the chaos.”