Barton Has Had Big Role In OSU Success

Offensive linemen aren't often fan favorites and leaders on their teams, but Ohio State senior Kirk Barton isn't exactly a normal guy. One of OSU's few seniors, Barton has stepped up and led the team both on and off the field in a way that probably will be missed during upcoming seasons.

Everyone, it seems, is going to miss Kirk Barton.

Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel admits it. Most of Barton's teammates say they – and the program – will miss the affable offensive lineman. Most of all, the local media will miss the man they almost unquestionably go to when in need of a witty, revealing or thought-provoking quote.

Yes, the Jan. 7 BCS National Championship Game will be a sendoff for a player who quickly has become a favorite around Columbus for his play on the field and everything he brings off of it.

Not bad for a three-star recruit out of Massillon, Ohio, who wouldn't have even been a Buckeye if it were not for a late offer from Ohio State. Now, Barton is a first-team All-American, first-team All-Big Ten selection and a captain on an Ohio State team that will be playing for a national title.

Oh, and a college graduate.

"It was exciting," said Barton, a history major. "When you come in here, there are certain things you want to do on the field and off the field. It was important to me to graduate. I hate when those statistics come out and they show the percentages of who didn't graduate. I didn't want to be a statistic. My mom is really proud of it because I'm the first person in my family to graduate."

Barton's quote reveals, yet again, his dedication to the home-state university that gave him a chance. Throughout this year, Barton often has put his team first through everything, both in his actions and his words. Perhaps most surprising, Barton's been able to avoid coming up with the controversial action – whether it be a quote about quarterbacks or some cigar- and champagne-toting after a big win – which earned him headlines before.

That last part left his buttoned-down coach coming up with a quip of his own.

"Probably a year ago I would've said ‘very little,'" head coach Jim Tressel said when asked how much he would miss Barton after the year. "I've really admired what Kirk Barton has done this year. He's done a good job from the get-go. I think he really put a lot of thought into, ‘Well, what is it that I can do to serve this team?'"

That has meant different things throughout the year. Even during the offseason, before he officially was named a captain, Barton made it a point to spend much of the summer workout time hanging out with the new freshmen to make sure they felt at home.

Once the season started, Barton has been one of the Buckeyes' most outspoken critics when he felt the team needed a jolt. After a close win against Michigan State Oct. 20, Barton talked of throwing a "hissy fit" after the Buckeye offense allowed two MSU turnovers to turn into touchdowns. Earlier in the year after an underwhelming 20-point performance against Akron, Barton was critical of the offense's showing.

"You need somebody that's passionate like that that's going to keep it all the way real and get on people when somebody needs to be on them," fellow captain Dionte Johnson said. "Kirk is the emotional guy. He's going to leave his emotions there on his shoulder. If you don't like it, then tough."

All this during a season in which he was one of the few seniors on the team that played. Many of his best friends on the team – guys like lineman T.J. Downing, quarterback Troy Smith and wideout Anthony Gonzalez – left after last season. In fact, his now-infamous victory cigar and champagne celebration, which earned him a chewing out from Tressel, after the win over No. 2 Michigan a year ago was to celebrate one final win in Ohio Stadium with those players.

Barton's efforts during preseason were just the beginning of his efforts to reach out to others on the team.

"I really worked to become good friends," he said. "I live next James Laurinaitis now and we're good friends. I try to open myself up to everybody. You never know what someone is going through. You try to be there for everybody."

Johnson said that Barton was responsive to everybody's needs.

"He collected everybody's phone number, he sends texts out," Johnson said. "When people felt that he was distant from the team, he brought himself closer and talked to all the seniors and things like that."

To some of the younger guys on the team, including sophomore wide receiver Brian Hartline, Barton did yeoman's work that will be missed a season from now.

"We had a smaller senior class, and a handful of the guys that were seniors didn't get to see the field, and Kirk was one of the guys that did," Hartline said. "For him to have that ability and the desire to come back for his senior year and then lead us to where we are, that's obviously going to be missed."

Barton can be expected to start in his final game, the national title game, which will be his 42nd start in a row. He has talked this year about how much he would like to get the big ring after a run of Big Ten titles, so one might expect that Barton, having graduated, would be in a particularly celebratory mood should the Buckeyes prevail.

"What is it, a Monday?" he said before answering in typical Kirk Barton fashion. "I won't have to go to church the next day. I might have to make an emergency run to confessional."

Then, as they often have this season, the captain instincts took over.

"I don't really think about that stuff. We thought about that stuff too much last year. It might've put us in a bind. I'll worry about that when I get to it."

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