This is my fifth year at Ohio State, and heading into my final season I’m getting a little bit nostalgic. There’s always been a part of me that enjoys when things get difficult: the dirty, nasty grind of it all. This year, I’m embracing it to a new level and bringing all the guys along with me. And when teammates tease me about how long I’ve been here, they’re right about one thing: I’ve practically seen it all.
The best word to describe my path here is unique. Some people start at the bottom and skyrocket to the top. Some start at the top and tumble to the bottom. Mine, well, it has been like a roller coaster with the highs and lows.
I began coming in hot, getting thrust into the starting role in 2014 after Braxton Miller got hurt. We lost to Virginia Tech at home in the second game, but Coach (Urban) Meyer never lost faith in me. We huddled up and figured out how to fix it. Then we get on a roll and went undefeated the rest of the way, but I broke my ankle against Michigan in the last game of the regular season. After we won the national title game against Oregon, someone asked me: “Was the victory bittersweet because I didn’t play in it?” Heck no! I was so much a part of that team and poured my heart into it that part of me was out on the field that night.
Then in 2015, I didn’t win the starting job right away. We had a loaded team that year, and everyday at camp we had all these NFL scouts there. It was like every practice was the Ohio State Pro Day. That summer in camp, I pressed and really didn’t practice well. When I ended up being named the starter later that year, I had a DUI/OVI and then had to regain the trust of all my teammates.
In 2016, we had a strong season going 11-1 and reached the College Football Playoff. But it didn’t finish the way that we wanted to, as we got shut out by Clemson, 31-0, and experienced another low point. That loss sets up a final season where the seniors in the program and myself are aiming to have another strong regular season and rewrite the ending.
I know that when I’ve been challenged in my career, my heart beats a little harder and I tighten my chinstrap a little tighter. I know that’s one thing that’s helped me earn Coach Meyer’s trust. When I got here, I was overweight because I had a torn ACL from high school. He used to tease me about my weight and challenged me early in my career when I wasn’t very good. What makes him a great coach is that he has a unique way to get the best out of people. He’s not going to tell you what you want to hear. He’s going to be honest with you. And I’ve learned that his honesty can be blunt sometimes, and you may not always like it as a player. But that’s also what makes him so good because it’s direct and there’s no confusion around what he wants. Coach Meyer kept pushing me and never gave up on me, and I really appreciate that now.
There’s been a lot of changes since the Clemson game. We have new offensive coordinators, Kevin Wilson and Ryan Day. Coach Wilson ran an up-tempo offense at Indiana and Coach Day is a disciple of Chip Kelly and the Oregon offense.
Basically, with our new coordinators, all they know is fast. There will still be times when we play slow this year, but our regular operation is just faster than it’s ever been here. At times last year, we were really stressed as an offense. We would win games and there would just be relief of winning, and it was kind of like that in 2015 too. I don’t think we operate like that anymore. We get excited on big plays and score touchdowns and everyone is running to the ball. Not that we didn’t do that, but at the end of the day everyone is just striving to be their best and playing more relaxed.
Coach Day is my third different quarterback coach, and I feel like he and I have really connected. He’s had me over to his house a couple times, and his 9-year-old son, RJ, is the funniest kid in the world. We’ve done things like hit golf balls, and Coach Day is quick to remind everybody that I’m not headed for the PGA Tour. What Coach Day has done is really teach me a lot about football, as he came here from coaching quarterbacks with the 49ers and the Eagles. I feel like our timing is better in the pass game, and we’ve done some different things like meeting with receivers to get on the same page. He always says: “When you think you have it figured out, that’s when you slip up. There’s always something you can learn.”
Even with all the success I’ve had, I know there are skeptics out there. Even some of our fans might feel like I’m not the best option at quarterback, but I’m just going to try and focus on the task at hand. That’s getting us better as a team. The harder I work here and the more team success we have, the better chance I have to position myself for the NFL.
It’s hard for me to talk about my individual legacy at Ohio State, as I’ve always been focused on the team. To finish my career, I think it would be really cool to win a national championship and for me to play in the title game. When I wrote down my goals at the start of my career at Ohio State, I never mentioned winning the Heisman Trophy or the Davey O’Brien Award for the best quarterback. I never cared about individual awards because I knew that those would come if the team was successful.
Years from now, if people do talk about me or my legacy, I hope people remember me both as a winner and a good dude who cared about people and never wanted to be big time. To me, I’m still J.T. Barrett from Wichita Falls, Texas, who likes to stay home and play video games and eat Honey Buns. That’s who I am, and I’m not going get away from it. My stay here has been unique, and to finish it leading this team to the national title would be the perfect ending to a memorable journey.
PODCAST: Pete Thamel on the Year of the QB