Come fall, Ohio State will have just six scholarship seniors on a roster that returns just three starters on each side of the ball.
With so much unknown talent walking through the doors of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, junior quarterback J.T. Barrett is tasked with the challenge of stepping up his leadership skills in his second year as a captain. The 2014 Big Ten Quarterback of the Year said Wednesday that one of the hardest things to do is to get young players to buy into winter workouts.
“I think the conversation you have with them is a lot of times a young guy might feel like this is a punishment, especially at Ohio State. It’s really hard. But it’s really not punishment,” Barrett said. “It’s more these are the things we do in order to get better and those things translate to the field.”
Coming from high school into the WHAC is a transition that Barrett knows all too well, having enrolled early in January 2013 before redshirting that season.
Barrett said that it took more than a full calendar year for things to click for him on the football field at Ohio State.
“I would probably say the summer of my redshirt freshman year. I had a rough spring. That offseason I had, the winter was rough on me. I did well in the offseason but the spring was really hard on me,” Barrett said. “It was more summer there was the transition of all the different things we’re doing, I needed to have a more positive attitude and realize it’s going to help me on the football field at the end of the day.”
Barrett enters his fourth season in the program having already been named a captain for the 2016 season. He said he believes that move by Urban Meyer to name him and Patrick Elflein and Raekwon McMillan as captains this early in the process meant he had to set an example for young players to follow and lean on.
“Having three people that, you know, these are the captains of the team, you can go to them. As a quarterback, you are always in a leadership position. Me being established as a captain really earlier than usual, I think it changed my mindset of like, now I definitely have to make sure that being a leader or helping guys was always on my mind,” Barrett said. “Whether we are in workouts, or watching film, all these different things in order for a young guy to get better each day.”
Without Cardale Jones in the locker room, Barrett is the clear cut starter for the first time heading into spring practice for the first time in his career.
Because of that, strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti said it is easier to put the pressure on Barrett to be example for young players to follow.
“There’s no guessing or who it’s gonna be or whatever because of injury. He’s a guy I lean on a lot. He’s really helped those young receivers and running backs really develop,” Marotti said. “There’s instant respect from the young guys for J.T.”
As for who he is helping develop, Barrett has quite the group to bring along.
The Buckeyes have seven early enrollees already in the program, one of which has already caught Barrett’s eye.
“Austin Mack said he wants to be the X (receiver). I've never seen him play, but he says he's going to be an X. I threw it to him one time, and asked 'What position do you play?' He said 'X.' Well, in our offense, at the X, you gotta be a Michael Thomas. You gotta be a dog,” Barrett said. “He's got a little fight in him. That's the thing, when things are hard in our workouts, those are the times you see you're like all right, he's got a little dog in him.”
Pushing Mack at that same receiver position is Torrance Gibson, who Barrett said is committed to playing wide receiver, despite being recruited initially as a quarterback.
While the Buckeyes are young and for the most part inexperienced, it appears they have the right guy for them to lead the pack.