Barrett signs with Illinois

Mar. 26—TUSCOLA — Jackson Barrett was one of the first ones to see Tuscola's boys' cross-country state championship banner.

Athletic director Ryan Hornaday gave the senior a sneak peek in the office before hanging it in the gym.

"I was waiting for that to come up all basketball season," Barrett said with a big smile. "You see the banner up there, and it's cool to have your name there forever, especially considering it's the only cross-country one that's up there."

That banner hung above Barrett, who led the Warriors to their first state title with a third-place individual finish last fall on his way to becoming the News-Gazette Runner of the Year, on Monday afternoon for another memorable moment. It's when Barrett signed his letter of intent to continue his running career at the University of Illinois, three days after verbally committing.

Along with it being just a 25-mile drive from Tuscola, Barrett said he chose Illinois because he knew his future teammates and coaches would push him to get even better. Plus, it has a "great" business school "that will prepare me for a pretty good future," Barrett said.

His reasoning didn't surprise Hornaday, who addressed the crowd Monday afternoon by bragging about Barrett a little bit and sharing how excited he was to follow his career in Champaign.

"He is exactly what we want a student-athlete at Tuscola High School to be," Hornaday said. "The other thing about Jack is he's super competitive. He's even competitive with academics. If it's on the line, Jack's the guy to go do it for us."

Barrett is the last of the Tuscola cross-country team's senior leaders to make their college decision, as Josiah Hortin and Will Foltz had already signed with Louisville and Southern Illinois, respectively. Those three, along with sophomore Blake McLeese and junior Xander Neamtu, made history this past season, and it's the time spent with them that Barrett will miss the most.

"To describe them, I'd say fun," Barrett said. "It's kind of hard to go out and run 10 miles every day. It's pretty monotonous and gets boring, but when I've got Josiah and Will cracking jokes behind me and Xander and Blake running in front of me and talking trash, it lightens the mood. It's a fun environment with all of them."

Barrett almost never took up distance running. As an incoming freshman, he wanted to play football, but the season was pushed to the spring due to COVID-19 concerns. His older brother, JD, convinced him to try cross-country that fall, and he's never looked back. Before he's done at Tuscola, Barrett still has some work to do on the track. Something similar to what the Warriors did in the fall.

"I don't know if it's completely hit me yet," Barrett said of everything he's accomplished in high school so far. "I'm still focused on track season and want to end it on a good note. Hopefully get another banner and just continue to cut down on time."