COLUMBUS, Ohio — Before J.T. Barrett can look like a quarterback for Ohio State, he has to go through a routine that more closely resembles rhythmic gymnastics.
Before he can touch a football, he has to pick up a long stick, a couple of elastic bands, a pair of weighted, round balls — and a baseball.
And finally, before Barrett can throw a pass in a game, he has to catch one from his backup.
“I think when people see the warm-up, they look at me and think like, ‘What in the world is he doing?’” Barrett said. “At first it kind of even threw me off, because I was like, ‘Where is the football?’
“That’s something that a lot of people don’t understand. ‘You’re doing all that before you touch a football?’ They think that in order to warm up, you’ve got to throw the football. That’s not the case.”
Instead, when Barrett and the rest of Ohio State’s passers trot out roughly 90 minutes before kickoff for a game like the one Saturday against UNLV at the Horseshoe, an actual pigskin will be one of the last things they need to get ready.
Waiting for them in the southwest corner of the end zone is the wooden stretching stick. A couple of hula hoops are on the ground in front of a net, which eventually will be on the receiving end of heavy balls colored blue and green, and a baseball. Plus, there are a handful of resistance bands for good measure to complete the warm-up before a football is handed over to the Buckeyes.
But quarterbacks love nothing more than routine, no matter how elaborate it might be.
Theory of warming up
The classrooms were different, but the lessons were the same.
Ryan Day learned the approach after a visit from famed quarterbacks guru Tom House when he was an NFL assistant coach under Chip Kelly in Philadelphia. Barrett has spent his offseasons training with House and his associates at 3DQB in California. So when the two teamed up for the first time when Day was hired as Ohio State’s quarterbacks coach, he and Barrett were instantly on the same page when it came to theories about best ways to loosen up an arm.
“You take a little bit from here, a little bit from there and then kind of make it your own,” Day said. “But we took that idea, that whole theory of warming up to throw instead of throwing to warm up. When you’re warming up your muscles, there’s a way to do it. And then when you’re working with the weighted balls, you’re actually working some muscles, some deceleration muscles, so the theory is that it actually puts strength back into your arm.
“It’s a maintenance thing, it’s a warm-up thought process — and it’s a routine. As a quarterback, you like to have a routine. That’s ours, and the guys seem to like it.”
Barrett, in particular, has embraced it for a few years. But the complete set of drills he was used to when working with House weren’t a part of the whole pregame script with the Buckeyes until Day arrived.
Ohio State has used the stretching stick previously, and the use of elastic bands isn’t uncommon with other position groups as well. But it’s the heavy balls and the footwork inside the hula hoop where Barrett really builds up a sweat, even in just a fraction of the time he might use before a workout.
“I’ve cut it down to maybe 7 minutes at most,” Barrett said. “When I go see [House], it’s like 20 minutes before I throw a football. I mean, you’re only seeing a portion of it, but really to have that warming up before I throw, it does a lot for having all the muscles firing and triggering in order to get the most out of throwing the football.
“When [Day] got here, he was showing film of when he was in Philly and the guys were doing the exact same routine. I just thought it was good that we believed in the exact same thing. If he wanted me to do something else, I would be all in with that, too.”
The days of just twirling the throwing arm around a few times and grabbing the football are long gone, at least at Ohio State.
Like everything else, from nutrition to technology that monitors the body during a workout, the science of sports has evolved even when it comes to warming up in pregame.
The Buckeyes under Meyer have always tried to stay on the cutting edge of what’s new in that field. And like his old mentor Kelly, Day has wrapped his arms around any form of innovation during his 15 years in the coaching profession.
“Well, in today’s day and age, these guys are phenomenal athletes,” Day said. “Where these guys are physically as compared to where they were 20 years ago is just night and day. So, this is just another tool.
“Science and sport science has come so far, and that’s just another way for him to keep his body where it needs to be.”
And, of course, given Barrett’s track record of success as the most prolific touchdown-producer in Big Ten history, the Buckeyes aren’t going to cut any corners when it comes to getting him ready.
Barrett, obviously, gets the football in his hands after his arm warm.
And after playing some catch in his corner of the stadium and then working through some routes with the receivers, running backs and tight ends, he again shifts out of quarterback mode.
The last thing he does every week before heading back to the locker room to put on his pads is line up on near the east sideline, set up as a target for either Joe Burrow or Dwayne Haskins, and run his own fly pattern to the paint at the Horseshoe.
“When I was a freshman, Kenny [Guiton] did it,” Barrett said. “Braxton [Miller] threw it to him. It’s normally the starter that does it, but when Cardale left, I started doing it. Joe started throwing it to me and I just kept it going on.”
J.T. Barrett made his pregame touchdown catch, then started a dance party with the receivers. Showtime at the Shoe getting close. pic.twitter.com/1ME2FcOosb
— Austin Ward (@AWardSports) September 9, 2017
And that’s where the pregame routine takes another football-less turn with Barrett’s touchdown celebration doubling as a dance party with the rest of the skill players. Every week, the ritual serves as a reminder that it is almost time to take it up a notch.
“That gets it going,” Barrett said with a laugh. “But I’m really just continuing a tradition with quarterbacks going down there and catching the last pass.
“I like to think I’ve got good hands.”
Barrett keeps them full during his unique pregame routine.
But the last thing he needs in his hands is an actual football.