Hidden Gems

Much has been made of the fact that many of the key cogs in West Virginia's offense for Monday night's Nokia Sugar Bowl were even mentioned much before the season started. Guys like Steve Slaton, Owen Schmitt and Ryan Stanchek seemed to appear out of nowhere and help lead the Mountaineers to one of the best seasons in school history.

But all of the hidden gems may not have been uncovered just yet. During early practice sessions in Atlanta No. 5, No. 10 and No. 7 have been making all of the usually plays on the offensive side of the ball, but No. 4 has also figured prominently in the action. That number belongs to an athlete who may not be familiar to the ABC and ESPN folks on hand to cover the game, but for true West Virginia fans the bearer of that jersey is far from a stranger.

That number belongs to former Martinsburg Bulldog standout Brandon Barrett, who is looking to finally make good on the high hopes that came with the former Kennedy Award winner when he chose to stay at home for his college career. The speedy receiver was expected to come in and make a big impact right away, but those dreams suddenly turned into a nightmare.

Barrett did not immediately qualify academically and was forced to sit out his initial season in Morgantown while he tried to get his grades to where they needed to be. That was not an easy task for a player who had played his entire career under the bright glare of the spotlight.

"I had doubts my first year coming in as a prop," admitted Barrett. "I didn't know how I was going to take that. But in the end I guess that helped me get bigger and learn the offense a little more. It has made everything easier for me."

His path onto the field, though, was anything but easy. Off-the-field troubles during that first year earned the 6-foot-1, 205-pound receiver a permanent spot in Rich Rodriguez's doghouse, and with each day the likelihood of Barrett ever seeing the field became smaller and smaller. For many athletes the frustrations would have been enough to get the car packed for home and a return to the scene of high school glory. Barrett admits that option did cross his mind at times.

"There were a couple times when I was thinking about it," he said. "But that wasn't what I wanted to do. I wanted to play football, so I stuck with it. I just had to sit down and think what I wanted to do with my future. I decided I wanted to play football in my future and hopefully do it at the next level. When I realized that is what I wanted to do, I got to work."

Once he made that decision, Barrett had plenty of support.

"I have a lot of people back home really pulling for me," he said. "My receiving corps and Coach Stewart have really been sticking behind me as well. Coach Stewart is my mentor and he keeps me going every day. He won't let me get off track. He is like my tour guide."

A simple desire to play and a little support was not enough. Barrett had burned a number of bridges along the way, and he had to prove himself to his coaches and teammates. Everyone who saw his abilities at Martinsburg wanted to know when he would get in the lineup, but WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez refused to discuss the issue. He would only say that Barrett had a long way to go and a great deal to prove if he wanted to be a part of the team.

The Brandon Barrett of two years earlier probably would have not taken that challenge well, but having grown up since his arrival in Morgantown, the new Barrett never pouted. He simply went to work on making himself a better player.

"I just tried to come out in practice every day and give it all I had," he explained. "I knew if I did the little things and worked hard, the coaches would notice me. I just go out there and do what they want me to do and do it to the best of my ability. Hopefully good things will happen."

If this week's practices are any indication, those rewards are starting to come. Barrett is a major part of the Sugar Bowl game plan, and his speed and athleticism could be just what the doctor ordered to help the Mountaineers keep up with the ‘Dawgs.

Barrett, though, has no delusions of grander.

"I just hope that I can get some playing time and do what I can do to help the team out," he said. "What I really want is a win."

Win or lose, though, the former Bulldog will always be grateful for the opportunity.

"Without football it is hard to tell what I would be doing right now," Barrett admitted. "Football has helped me get on the right path. It's been a long road, but Coach Jones, Coach Rod and Coach Stew really stuck by me and helped me work through this process. I just come out every day and do what they tell me to do to try to get better. "I just thank them for helping me through all of the problems I have had so far. Now all I can do is try to do anything I can for them."

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