SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — One of the defining moments of Ohio State’s run to the College Football Playoff occurred in Norman, Okla., in the third week of September.
Only it wasn’t on the field, but rather in the locker room before the game even began that the Buckeyes kept their postseason hopes alive.
Featuring a roster full of 16 new starters and 42 freshmen, Ohio State was already preparing to face a top-15 opponent in a hostile environment. Mother Nature only added to the growing list of concerns for the young Buckeyes as a lightning delay left Ohio State in its locker room for nearly two hours, wreaking havoc to Urban Meyer’s meticulously crafted game day routine.
Fortunately for Meyer and the Buckeyes, they had J.T. Barrett.
“For the Oklahoma game, his speech before that game really stood out to us,” said Buckeyes H-back Curtis Samuel. “It was a big delay. He just got everybody’s mind right and prepared for the game.”
The result spoke for itself. The Buckeyes beat the Sooners, 45-24, catapulting the young Bucks to the forefront of the College Football Playoff discussion.
For Barrett, it only added to his lore as one of the greatest signal-callers in Ohio State history. But, like the quarterback Meyer often compares him to, Tim Tebow, it’s his leadership as much as his play that’s sculpted his legacy.
Ask any player on the Ohio State roster and he can likely pinpoint when Barrett’s leadership first made an appearance.
For center Pat Elflein, it came during his own redshirt freshman season in 2013 as the Wichita Falls, Texas, product ran the Buckeyes’ scout team.
“When he was on scout team, I remember Coach Meyer would praise him for running it and being a great leader down there,” said Elflein.
But Barrett’s leadership became most apparent as he seamlessly filled the void an injured Braxton Miller left in the Ohio State starting lineup in 2014. Just a redshirt freshman, Barrett led the Buckeyes to an 11-1 record before a broken ankle in the regular-season finale brought his own season to an end.
Nevertheless, Barrett became a prominent fixture on the Ohio State sideline throughout the Buckeyes’ run to a College Football Playoff championship. Even as Meyer named Cardale Jones his starting quarterback at the start of the 2015 campaign, Barrett’s teammates voted him a captain, before he resumed his starting role midway through the year.
“When Braxton got hurt, it just went to a whole other level,” Elflein said. “He got to show off those leadership skills.”
Added Buckeyes guard Billy Price: “When you’ve got those type of people behind you, it’s a confidence booster for us. To be able to continue to lead a team and motivate every position and not just the offense or the quarterbacks, the running backs. He’s able to reach everybody, and that’s the sign of a great leader.”
But while Elflein and Price have witnessed Barrett’s leadership from the start of his career, running back Mike Weber joined Ohio State in 2015, when Barrett was already the face of the Buckeyes program.
And although Barrett appeared cool, calm and collected off the field, it didn’t take Weber long to realize there were two sides to his new teammate.
“He might not talk a lot, but when he does, it’s real intense,” said Weber. “Especially when he talks to the team. He’s a different person. It’s like there’s two different types of J.T.’s. It’s the savage type and it’s the calm type. That’s what you need in football.”
As they prepare for a Fiesta Bowl clash with Clemson in the College Football Playoff on New Year’s Eve, it’s not tough to predict which version of Barrett the Buckeyes will be getting in the coming days.