Chance To Play Early, Reach NFL Drew Barnett

C.J. Barnett signed with Ohio State on Wednesday, but he did not grow up in southwest Ohio rooting for the Buckeyes. He was not a tough sell after learning about the program's recent and long-term ability to put cornerbacks like him in the NFL.

"When I first started playing corner my sophomore year, I didn't know how, and I got a DVD that taught me how to play from John Cooper," Barnett said, referring to the man who was Ohio State's head football coach from 1988-2000. "He had a statistic that all their starting DBs had a chance to go to the next level, so I figured if I did what I need to do and get to be a starter then I have a good chance."

Eleven of Ohio State's 14 regular starting cornerbacks in the past 15 seasons have been drafted, figures that exclude Malcolm Jenkins, Donald Washington and Chimdi Chekwa, starters for all or parts of the past two seasons who have not been eligible for a draft yet.

Maybe more impressively, every Ohio State defensive backfield since 1966 has had at least one player drafted, beginning with Ted Provost, a starter from 1967-69.

Barnett would like to continue both those streaks, and he will begin officially with spring practice, when Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock and cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson begin the task of replacing three of the top four cornerbacks from the 2008 depth chart.

With Jenkins and Shaun Lane having exhausted their eligibility and Washington skipping his final season to enter the draft pool, Barnett and fellow incoming freshman cornerbacks Corey Brown and Dominic Clarke have a chance to earn early playing time.

"I think they're all great athletes," Heacock said. "I really do. I'm really excited about all of them. I think they'll all be able to compete."

Also in the mix at cornerback will be senior Andre Amos, junior Devon Torrence and sophomore Donnie Evege.

Barnett plans to push them all.

"My mindset is I want to play this year," he said. "I'm going to do whatever I can to. Hopefully I can help the team.

"Coach Johnson came down and talked to me and told me that the only guy with experience is Chimdi Chekwa and that other side will be open and it just comes down to what happens in camp."

Though much of the Dayton area is Buckeye-mad, Barnett did not grow up sharing the passion for the Scarlet and Gray. In fact, he thought initially he might like to head out of state for a warmer climate until learning of Ohio State's reputation as a cornerback factory and seeing what the Columbus campus had to offer a 4.0 student who plans to major in pre-law.

"Experiencing their games, experiencing the atmosphere and all that and learning about their educational programs and all that, that was what did it for me," he said.

The presence of a familiar face in the form of fellow Northmont High School alumnus Kurt Coleman doe not hurt either. There was a chance the two former Thunderbolts could miss each other if Coleman, who earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors as a second-year starter in 2008, had opted to skip his final season of eligibility, but the two will soon get even better acquainted with each other than they already are.

"I'm going up there earlier than I'm supposed to and staying with him at the end of this month," Barnett said. "We had a discussion a while ago. He said before I made my decision, ‘Well, you know if you come, I'll stay. I'll show you the ropes.' I said, ‘OK, I'll hold you do that.' And he kept his word. So I'm pretty sure he's going to help me out."

That kind of cooperation comes as no surprise to Northmont head coach Lance Schneider.

"Kurt does a great job of coming back and working with our guys in the summer and any time he is off school," the coach said. "He works with them in the weight room and does stuff on the field with them. In C.J.'s case going up there to play, he's going to have a little bit of an edge over some of the other guys coming into the program at the same time as him just because he's been exposed to some of the things they're doing."

Schneider has shaped Barnett's career by opting to move the youngster to the defensive backfield three seasons ago.

"Well, he came into our program as a quarterback and we let him play quarterback and DB as a freshman, but I knew as a sophomore he was going to need to play DB for us and that would probably be how he would get to the next level and maybe beyond that," Schneider said.

The move proved fortuitous both for the Thunderbolts, who won or shared division titles in the Greater Western Ohio Conference and made the Division I playoffs in each of the last four seasons, and Barnett, who earned All-Ohio honors as a senior.

"I think size and strengthwise, he's probably a little bit ahead of the curve than most corners coming out of high school," Schneider said. "He's got a real good understanding of the game, and I think being a 4.0 student will help him at that level as well. He learns things fast. Graduating early and getting up there is going to help. He'll do some maturing over the next year or so and learn his lessons the hard way on the field, I'm sure, but I think he'll definitely be in the picture."

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