Making Strides

Brandon Barrett is arguably the most decorated West Virginia high school football player of the last ten years. After some bumps in the road, the native son is poised to prove that he's as good as advertised.

When Barrett was going through the recruiting process, everyone in the state joined him on the ride. The two-time Kennedy Award winner as the Mountain State's top prep player had offers from all over the nation, and his decision came down to the homestate Mountaineers and the Ohio State Buckeyes.

When he announced that he'd be attending West Virginia, message boards and newspapers all across the state were predicting big things. Barrett was, to some, the biggest recruit in the state since Randy Moss. As he soon found out, the spotlight can be both a good and a bad thing.

"It's hard because a lot of people know you," he said. "You have to go out there and do the right things, and make the right choices off the field too."

Like many young kids coming out of high school, Barrett had to learn about life's ups and downs the hard way. Prior to his first fall camp at WVU, he found out that he would not be academically qualified. By being a "prop" he would lose a year of eligibility, and have to pay his own way for the first year of college.

While sitting out that year, Barrett had a brush with the law late one night back in his native Martinsburg. That, coupled with his continued struggles in the classroom, left head coach Rich Rodriguez no choice but to take away Barrett's scholarship. If he was going to be a Mountaineer, he would have to make up plenty of ground in the classroom. If he took that step, he would then have to earn his way onto the Mountaineer football team as a walk-on.

At some point during his time off, the light bulb above Brandon's head came on. He began taking baby steps in the classroom, and by the time fall camp rolled around in August of 2005, his academics were in order.

"I just really had to focus on classwork," said the former Parade All-American. "My grades dropped a lot because I wasn't focused. Whether it was for football or any other goal that I set, I needed to get my degree."

After proving his ability in the classroom, it was time to prove his worth on the field. He began last August just like any other walk-on. He ran with the scout team. He stayed after practice. And by the end of the season, he was starting at one of the slot receiver positions in the Sugar Bowl.

Spring drills provided an opportunity for Barrett to prove himself. A hamstring injury held him out of the spring's first couple of weeks, but according to Brandon he's healthy and happy to be back out on the field.

"I'm just glad to get back out there and have some reps," he said. "It's just fun to be out here playing football again."

No one but Coach Rod himself will ever know how close Barrett was to being kicked out of the program for good, but the junior receiver is thankful that his coaches and teammates stood by him through the tough times.

"It's been a long road, but I'm happy to have stuck with it," he said. "I had to do what I needed to do in school, and all the coaches and players have stuck with me through this whole process."

One player who has been particularly helpful is senior receiver Brandon Myles. Like Barrett, Myles was a prop coming out of high school.

"Brandon Myles is a great role model," said the younger Brandon. "He helps me and stays after practice with me to work on things. He's taken me under his wing, and helped me come a long way."

During his time on the field this spring, Barrett has shown flashes of his high school days. During Saturday's scrimmage he finished with four catches for 28 yards, which was tops on the team.

"He's a pretty good competitor," said Rodriguez. "I was pleased with some of the things he was able to do today."

Barrett knows there's plenty of room for improvement in his game.

"I just have to keep getting in shape, and keep running my routes better," he said. "I'd like to have a starting position (in the fall), and that's what I'm working towards. I'm coming out and trying to take the coaching I'm given whether it's from a meeting or on the field."

Off the field there's even been talk of Barrett earning his scholarhip back at the end of the semester.

"We have to wait and see how the grades turn out, because there's a lot more to a scholarship than just football. But right now, he's on track to get one," said Rodriguez.

"That's what I'm striving for. Coming (to WVU initially) I was offered a scholarship. Now I'm trying to earn it back," added Brandon. "I'm coming along."

Given the ups and downs he's been through the past two years, Barrett's already come a long way. And if he continues down the path he's on now, he'll go a lot further.

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