100 in 100: Rowan County’s Billy Ray Barnes, Wake Forest’s two-sport ‘Bullet’

The Landis native starred in both baseball and football with the Demon Deacons, then played nine NFL season

Landis’ Billy Ray Barnes dominated in both football and baseball at Wake Forest in the mid-1950s, and then he went on to play nine professional seasons with four NFL teams.

North State Journal’s 100 in 100 series will showcase the best athlete from each of North Carolina’s 100 counties. From Alamance to Yancey, each county will feature one athlete who stands above the rest. Some will be obvious choices, others controversial, but all of our choices are worthy of being recognized for their accomplishments — from the diamond and gridiron to racing ovals and the squared circle. You can see all the profiles as they’re unveiled here.

Rowan County

Billy Ray Barnes

Before there was a Bo Jackson or a Deion Sanders, there was Billy Ray Barnes, the quintessential two-sport star. A native of rural Landis, Barnes arrived at Wake Forest in 1953 and over the next four years left a legacy that is still unmatched in school history.

On the football field, he became the first player in ACC history to gain 1,000 yards on the ground in a season while leading the conference in rushing, kickoff returns, total yardage and touchdowns. He also intercepted two passes and was the nation’s second-leading rusher as a senior in 1956. His 1,607 yards still ranks among the top 15 in Wake history.

On the baseball diamond, “Bullet” Barnes was a three-time All-ACC third baseman who led the conference in stolen bases and played a major role in the Deacons winning the national championship in 1955.

Billy Ray Barnes

After driving in three runs with a bases-loaded triple, he stole home for what turned out to be the winning run in the title game against Western Michigan. He then made a diving stop of a ground ball to record the final out in the 7-6 victory that gave Wake its first NCAA championship in any sport.

Upon the completion of his college career, Barnes was taken by the Philadelphia Eagles in the second round of the 1957 NFL Draft. He played nine professional seasons, amassing 3,421 rushing yards, 1,786 receiving yards, 39 touchdowns and Pro Bowl selections in 1957, ’58 and ’59. He became an indelible part of Eagles’ lore by providing a key run, catch and block on the winning drive that gave Philadelphia a 17-13 win against the Green Bay Packers in the 1960 NFL Championship Game.

Barnes also played for the Washington Redskins and Minnesota Vikings before becoming an assistant coach with the Atlanta Falcons. His No. 33 has been retired by Wake Forest, and in 1979, he was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.