COLUMBUS, Ohio — J.T. Barrett has learned to make a joke about his age.
“I’ve been here a minute now,” the Ohio State quarterback said with a smile. “Everybody has a different path.”
By just about any standard, of course, the redshirt senior is a young man. But graded against the lifespan of a college athlete — particularly a multiyear starter for the Buckeyes — Barrett definitely qualifies as an old guy.
When it was pointed out to him that Tate Martell, the fresh face in his quarterbacks room, was in the eighth grade when Barrett enrolled at Ohio State, that realization brought another grin.
Barrett has compiled an impressive résumé at Ohio State and he has one more season to play. That likely means a lot of victories, but it also means a chance to add to his legacy by passing along knowledge he has acquired since arriving on campus in January 2013.
Of course, claiming a national championship remains the ultimate goal for Barrett. He has NFL aspirations, too. But in some ways, his maturity has allowed him to evolve into a new position for the Buckeyes, somewhere between player and coach, teammate and mentor.
That means sharing some hard-won lessons that he would have loved to give to a 17-year-old version of himself if that kid had walked into the veteran Barrett’s locker room.
“There’s a lot you learn from when you’re 18 until now, when I’m 22,” he said. “I came in here when I was 17, and I am a different person, not just a football player. There are things you learn and go through outside of football that kind of mold you into who you are. Some of those guys are probably going to go through things that I’ve been through, so that’s part of life.
“It’s more coaching, now. I tell them to control what they can control. I feel myself trying to be an extension of our offensive coordinator [Kevin Wilson] and quarterbacks coach [Ryan] Day, coaching guys up. There are times when I definitely mess up and there are some things that Joe Burrow, Dwayne [Haskins] and Tate [Martell] may do better than me.
“But at the end of the day, that’s not me. Cardale [Jones] could throw the ball 80 yards if he wanted to. I’m not doing that. So that’s part of it, being able to coach those guys up. That’s something that I’ve learned.”
Perhaps more than anything else, his heavily scrutinized and intense competition with Jones in 2015 comes up in hindsight as the most valuable learning experience in Barrett’s on-field career. He has made it no secret that he struggled with his confidence as he tried to reclaim the starting job from his close friend. He became his own worst enemy in the process.
And with a battle already underway to back him up this fall and get the inside track on the starting job next season, Barrett is working to prevent that from happening to any of his potential heirs.
“You know, in high school, was there competition for me? Yeah, there was a time when I was a sophomore where there was competition,” Barrett said. “But other than that, a lot of guys here were top players at our school or whatever and the competition wasn’t crazy. But when you come to a place like this, the competition is real.
“There was a time when I was worried about what another guy was doing, whether it be Braxton [Miller], Cardale, Kenny [Guiton]. I was just trying to do better than those guys. But at the end of the day, I can only control what I can do. So with that, it was something I went through trying to outplay somebody instead of just playing my game.”
The new balancing act for the old man, though, is keeping tabs on the youngsters while maintaining focus on his own game.
Barrett isn’t done, obviously. But a future for Ohio State without him isn’t too many minutes away.
“Even when Cardale was here, we tried to get to that point where we were able to coach each other and wish for the best for each other because at the end of the day, we wanted the other person to succeed,” Barrett said. “It’s the same way right now.
“I want to help those guys and give them all I can. Once I’m through playing here, I want those guys to keep this Ohio State train going.”
But for now, believe it not, Barrett is still around — and clearly still the conductor.