After tearing his ACL in October of 2012 during his senior year of high school, Barrett charted a course that would leave him prepared to take the field for the Buckeyes once he healed from the injury. While he’s known for being a quick learner and a cerebral player, the Wichita Falls, Texas, native showed his teammates from the outset and throughout his time in Columbus that he’s willing to put in the work to get results.
“He’s always been the quarterback finishing first in the runs and attacking the weights in the weight room,” tight end Nick Vannett said. “You want to see a guy like that take over an offense. That just gives you a little more trust in him.”
In addition to the trust that his teammates have in him, they’ve also given him a vote of confidence by refusing to adjust their expectations following the loss of senior quarterback Braxton Miller. Losing the two-time conference player of the year is more than just an afterthought, but player after player has said that they expect Barrett to step in and fill the void left by Miller.
Junior left tackle Taylor Decker said the offensive line may need to improve in order to give him more time and protection as a younger player, but he also noted that Barrett has the talent to help the Buckeyes shine.
“Braxton can make you look great, but so can J.T.,” Decker said. “We’re definitely going to miss Braxton, but we’re not going to feel sorry for ourselves because we’re missing him at all. I think we’re going to be completely fine with J.T., and I’m 100 percent confident in him.”
While some players might need to be monitored after being handed the reins at a program of Ohio State’s caliber, Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer said that he hasn’t had to keep a close eye on the attitude of the first-time starter in practice.
“He's a calm guy that had a very good practice today, like really good practice today, and was very businesslike about his approach,” Meyer said in his Aug. 25 press conference. “He's not someone you have to watch to see their demeanor because it's the same as it was two weeks ago. We all know what's coming down the barrel at him, but he's handled it very well.”
Perhaps the only way in which the even-keeled Barrett has changed has been in the way he addresses the team in the huddle. Decker said that in the wake of Miller’s injury, Barrett has been more assertive and more of a leader than his underclassman status might suggest.
“He’s had more of a voice in the huddle because he knows he’s become the face of our program basically overnight,” Decker said. “He’s definitely come up with that voice and that leadership role, but other than that, he’s always gone about his business and he’s always handled himself well. I’m not worried about that at all.”
What exactly does going about his business entail? For Barrett, it means working as hard as he ever has.
“He’s always been a really mature, responsible guy who did what he needed to do,” Decker said. “He came in off a surgery and would do what he needed to do rehab-wise. On the field, he’s always been a mental rep guy. He’s just mature. He’s a guy who came in that was mature and understood what he needed to do even though he may not have been the starter. He’s just always been mature and handled his business. He’s always been ready. Him getting more and more reps, you’re able to see his work ethic put forth into a product on the field.”
One thing that may help Barrett is that Ohio State’s offense can still function at an extremely high level when it’s led more by a distributor like him than an outright playmaker like Miller. When Meyer looks at the Texas native, he sees flashes of a couple of players that have run his offense to great success in the past – Chris Leak and Kenny Guiton.
Against Navy, Barrett won’t be asked to do too much. That’s not a knock on his intelligence, which coaches and players alike have raved about. Rather, it’s a simple precaution to guard against any nerves that might come with a young player making his first career start.
“We don’t do a whole lot on offense despite what some people think we may or may not do,” Herman said. “We don’t ask the quarterback to be a rocket surgeon by any stretch of the imagination and never have and never will. Maybe that’s why those guys have played well in our system. But yeah, we might actually make a more conscious effort to keep it simple but not a ton less than we already do.”
And if Barrett does make a mistake, his teammates have seen firsthand the way that he deals with errors. If he experiences any frustration, he doesn’t let anyone know.
“For him, it’s (about) understanding why he made that mistake and how he can improve on that,” Vannett said. “He’s taken a great approach to it. Even when he’s not in, he’s back there with Coach Herman trying to talk over some plays and understand what he can do better if he made a mistake. I think he’s doing all the things he needs to do to be prepared for this game.”