Saturday will mark the final time quarterback J.T. Barrett will sprint through the Hazelwood Family Tunnel in Ohio Stadium to take the field as a Buckeye.
He has made that run every home game over the past five seasons, the first as a redshirt and each of the past four as the starting quarterback. Between that first game on Aug. 31, 2013 and Saturday, spanning 1,540 days, Barrett has set 22 Ohio State records, led the team to a national championship-winning season in his first year as a starter, and brought the team to two playoff appearances in three full seasons as a starter.
Saturday will mark the end of an era in Ohio Stadium. Love him, hate him or stand somewhere in the middle, Ohio State fans will never again see Barrett doing quick cals with the students before the game, never again see Barrett stand at the Block O in the center of the field for the coin toss, never again see Barrett lock arms with head coach Urban Meyer and the rest of the team to sing “Carmen” at the end of every game.
No longer seeing that familiar No. 16 taking snaps under center will be strange for those fans. He has seemingly been the quarterback for as long as anyone can remember.
“I haven’t had time to look on it too much, but just a little bit looking back, it’s been a long time,” Barrett said Tuesday. “Five years is quite some time.”
Barrett’s path to the final step in his career in Columbus has been a long, winding and often complex road. The Wichita Falls, Texas, native took over the starting quarterback position as a redshirt freshman after Braxton Miller injured his shoulder and missed the season. He lost the second game of his career as a starter, sparking questions that seems to have lingered throughout his entire career as to whether he should be the starter.
Since then, he’s won a national championship and battled for a starting spot the following season. He’s been at the helm of two teams that reached the College Football Playoff and has always faced criticism from the fanbase. He has won 40 games and lost just six games over a span of nearly four years, and even in this final year, it took one loss to a top-five team for people to ask for him to be replaced by a quarterback who had made one total collegiate appearance.
Through the trials and tribulations he’s faced every season, Barrett has been the most productive quarterback in program history.
“Even if you get like a new job, you have certain goals you write out for yourself that you want to achieve and kind of like I said, you have a path on how to get there and you know what you want to accomplish,” Barrett said. “Then it’s almost like, well hold on now. God has a path too and it’s not always the same path. With that, there’s things along the way that I didn’t expect. God knew what was happening I think with those things. Positive or negative, I was able to build from them and I think at the end of the day, I think I’m a better person for all the things I went through.”
His journey as an Ohio State quarterback does not end Saturday. Barrett knows this. Following the game against Illinois, he will travel up north to Ann Arbor, Michigan, for a matchup against the rival Wolverines. Depending on the outcome, he could then be headed to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game.
But Barrett is not looking past this game. He knows the significance of the game, even if it is coming against an opponent the Buckeyes are heavily favored to beat. Senior Day means the final home game for many players considered to be staples in Ohio State’s team dating back to its national championship winning season.
As a redshirt freshman playing on his first Senior Day, Barrett remembers feeling motivated to compete as hard as possible for more than just the chance at a title, but for the seniors who would be competing in their final home game.
“I remember looking at the older guys on our offense … playing for those guys and how much that meant to them that that was going to be their last time playing at Ohio Stadium,” Barrett said. “I think if anything that’s what’s going to be talked about as far as playing for something because you ain’t going to get that again.”
That season, Barrett watched seniors like Jeff Heuerman, Evan Spencer and Devin Smith run onto the field to receive that final ovation from the fans, hug their parents and deliver them flowers. Saturday, it will be Barrett’s turn to make that run.
Barrett has yet to give serious thought to the Senior Day ceremony, but he knows it will be an emotional moment when his name is called and he runs out onto the field for the final time to deliver roses to his parents.
“I might see my mom cry for the first time,” Barrett said. “That’s a big deal. I’m 22 years old and haven’t seen that.”
Barrett has taken the field at Ohio Stadium 33 times. Saturday will mark the 34th and final time.
That run from the tunnel will mark the beginning of the end for Barrett. When he runs back into that tunnel at the end of the game, he will leave Ohio Stadium as one of the most accomplished quarterbacks to ever play on that field.