Barton On Best Behavior - Barely

Outspoken OSU tackle Kirk Barton bit his lip a bunch when peppered with questions about Michigan on Monday. Instead of speaking exactly what might be on his mind leading up to the contest in Ann Arbor Saturday afternoon, he explained how he is able to hold back and what past consequences remain his motivation. It was an entertaining show, to say the least.

Jim Tressel generally gives off the air of a perfect gentleman.

Always careful to avoid disrespecting his next opponent, the Ohio State head coach goes out of his way to say nice things about them – some true, some not so much.

Never will anyone see a Tressel comment on an opposing team's bulletin board.

The same can be said for Kirk Barton, although not exactly because Ohio State's right tackle wants it that way.

Before he was known for his NFL potential at right tackle, Barton's reputation was built largely on being the player who called for Troy Smith to get a chance at quarterback while Justin Zwick was the starter in the first half of the 2004 season.

"That was the first time I ever got to talk to the media," Barton said. "I was 0 for 1."

Upon a reporter telling him he was really 1 for 1, Barton smirked good-naturedly and said, "Yeah, for you guys."

Though he took hold of the right tackle job that season, Barton was a scarcity in the interview room until the following year.

Eventually, he was allowed to speak with the media again and promptly became a go-to guy for entertaining commentary on his teammates, a colorful character amid Tressel's band of soft-spoken, perhaps overly modest players.

This past spring Barton said he had learned his lesson on predicting quarterback races but was not shy in declaring that Chris and Maurice Wells would form a "dynamic duo" the likes of New Orleans Saints Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush, that Vernon Gholston would probably end up the best defensive end in the country and Dexter Larimore would soon be a contributor at defensive tackle.

Once the 2007 season got underway, Barton clammed up to a certain extent. He offered a few beauties during the season, but largely he appears to have taken his captain's role as one that must be executed with quiet dignity.

A near exception came after an Oct. 20 win over Michigan State when Barton said he was trying to avoid throwing "a hissy fit" after the Spartans converted a pair of OSU turnovers into touchdowns to make the 24-17 final score much closer than the game really was.

That prompted Tressel to state, "Kirk and I have a little bit different personality, but probably similar thoughts."

Had the coach been there for Barton's meeting with the media session Monday, he would have been proud to see the big man deflect any chance to bash Michigan.

"I'm not dumb," he said. "They have plenty of motivation. I'm not going to spout off and toss stuff on their bulletin board. I'm just trying to be conservative here and not swear. I didn't swear on Saturday, which is good."

After Ohio State's loss to Illinois, Barton was the first to reach the platform for interviews.

Left alone in front of a large collection of cameras and reporters for a solid two or three minutes, he was clearly (and understandably) upset at having just been dealt a defeat on his senior day. He popped the top on a soda, looked off into the distance, up to the ceiling, to his right then left, let out a heavy sigh, then began to study his hand. After that, he seemed to glare a hole in his can of soda before taking a drink. In mid-sip, Barton was finally rescued from his isolation by the arrival of Tressel and his fellow captains.

Despite disappointment and then isolation, Barton remained on his best behavior throughout the postgame proceedings, even remaining diplomatic when asked about the Illinois players' attempts to celebrate on the Block ‘O' at midfield.

"I was proud of myself," Barton said Monday. "I'm just trying to stay conservative, which I'm sure you guys hate right now, but it's just what you're going to have to deal with for this week," he added with a laugh.

He then proved he wasn't joking.

Asked about Michigan running back Mike Hart's running commentary about Ohio State that began just after the Buckeyes' win last November, Barton was respectful.

"He's entitled to his opinion about last year's game," Barton said. "He's allowed to speak his mind. I'm sure we have a few guys that are thinking about those comments from last year." Regarding Michigan linebacker/end and fellow Massillon native Shawn Crable, Barton was complimentary.

"Shawn's having a pretty good year. He's second in the country in tackles for loss. He's very versatile, can play defensive end and linebacker," Barotn said. "He's a leader, a tough player. He's really had a great senior year for them." He went on to praise the maligned Michigan defense as a whole.

"Their defense is filled with veterans and they've really played well over the last few games," he said of a team that allowed 829 yards and 61 points the past two weeks. "They do a lot of things well."

Around that time, someone asked Barton if he was holding anything back. "Oh yeah," he said before adding with a laugh, "You guys aren't going to hear it, so don't worry about it."

Overall, Barton was a cool customer.

The closest he came to losing it appeared to be when queried about the idea that Michigan's vaunted defense – aside from a few select big plays – had acquitted itself well last season in the Horseshoe when Ohio State scored 42 points and surpassed the 500-yard mark in total offense.

"Oh man," he said before muttering under his breath to himself, "Don't say anything bad…"

After a heavy sigh, Barton began to respond. "Well, I mean, you know – I don't know."

After a long pause, he gave up and appealed for another question.

"Because I'll say something, and I don't want to say anything bad."

The lack of a response was telling enough of Barton's opinion on the matter, and it prompted another reporter to ask if Barton had a hard time censoring himself.

"Can't you guys tell?" he replied. "I always have to tell myself not to swear because I swear a lot and that's not good for you guys and for the team. I try to be classy, which I fail to do sometimes.

"You don't want to give them bulletin board material because Lord knows that would be the worst thing you could do to a Michigan game because they'd read it over and over again. So I'm trying to be good and not say anything bad, which is hard because it makes me think a lot more before I say anything. It makes me seem like I'm kind of…"

He trailed off for a second before adding, "I don't want to say anything bad again."

It is no coincidence Barton has learned to mind his Ps and Qs in his five years in Columbus. Every preseason the Buckeyes go through a media training seminar in which they are warned about what not to say in public, told how to respond to various questions and shown classic athlete blowups such as those by Kellen Winslow II and Rasheed Wallace.

"For a couple years every time those guys came in everyone would look at me before it started," Barton said. "I've had my fair share of quotes and incidents. I'm trying to clean up that character thing a little bit."

Asked how hard it is to restrain himself all week prior to a game, Barton responded, "I only bottle it up for 45 minutes when I'm sitting in front of your microphones. As soon as I get in (the film room) it's going to be free flowing."

With Barton on his best behavior for most of this season, the most egregious PR mistake by a Buckeye was probably committed by fellow tackle Alex Boone.

After Michigan lost to Division I-AA Appalachian State in its season opener Sept. 1, Boone wondered aloud to reporters in Columbus, "How the hell are you going to come back and call everyone out, and you can't even beat Appalachian State?"

Did Barton have any advice for his younger teammate?

"I just said, ‘Don't fear the Reaper. The Reaper might get you.' The Reaper has come for me a couple times for my comments. And I dodged him."

The "Reaper", in this case, is Tressel.

How exactly does one dodge him? "Pray a lot. Repent. I don't know."

Barton said after his last high-profile misdeed – taking a celebratory cigar into the interview room and speaking of swigging champagne with teammates after Ohio State's defeat of Michigan last season – he sought out Tressel before the coach could find him.

"I mean the Offensive Coordinator Reaper (Jim Bollman) came to me and gave me a pretty good chewing so I set out for the head reaper and talked to him," Barton said.

The player headed to the film room at 5 a.m. the next morning, checking Tressel's office every 15 minutes or so to see if he had arrived yet.

"It was pretty nerve-racking," Barton said. "Of course, it was the week he decided to sleep in until like 8 because we didn't have an opponent." Once Tressel did make the scene, his reaction was not as harsh as Barton might have thought it was going to be.

"We just talked," Barton said. "I said it many times I didn't have any ill intent. The biggest thing was I didn't want kids to smoke cigars and drink champagne because I'm a role model. That's kind of the message I was sending, which I didn't think about, honestly, but I knew it was going to be (Anthony Gonzalez's) last time playing and Troy's last time and (right guard T.J. Downing's) last time. It was a special game, 1 vs. 2, a big deal, and after we won it I guess it was time to just savor it."

And he hopes his restraint this season will help make it easier to earn more moments worth savoring, one way or another.

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