By Tim May
COLUMBUS: It might come as a shock to learn that freshman J.T. Barrett has been a starting quarterback at Ohio State this season. In fact, he has been at least 10 different quarterbacks.
That’s what comes with plying his trade on “the best scout teams in the nation,” coach Urban Meyer said. This week, Barrett is channeling Indiana’s Nate Sudfeld one moment and backup quarterback Tre Roberson the next. He hopes his efforts will help the Buckeyes post a school-record 23rd consecutive victory Saturday.
“Coach Meyer does a good job of letting everybody know they are a part of this journey that we’re on,” said Barrett, from Wichita Falls, Texas. “It doesn’t matter whether you are the No. 1 starter, No. 2 or on the scout team — everybody plays a part in the winning streak we’re having.
“You feel like you’re appreciated, and knowing that you are part of something great here at Ohio State means a lot.”
In Meyer’s world, relentless effort, whether from first-teamers or scout-teamers, is expected. He has found what fuels that best for scout-teamers is appreciation. That goes for scholarship players — such as Barrett and running back Warren Ball, who are waiting for their chances to start — to walk-ons such as cornerback Nik Sarac, who are trying to prove their worth.
“One way is recognizing them with you guys, the media, and I think once they see that, they [know they] are appreciated,” Meyer said. “The other way is with our players and coaches. We try to treat everybody how they deserve to be treated here.
“And whether you’re a superstar player or a guy like Nik Sarac, who is going to be a surgeon — he’s an incredible member of our football team, I love him to death, and I try to spend as much time [as possible] with guys like that, and our staff does, as well. Those guys are very valuable members.”
Walk-ons take their roles seriously, too, said Sarac, a sophomore from Cleveland St. Ignatius, even if it means getting crunched from time to time by the starting offense. He usually studies the tendencies of the player he will be simulating during the week to enhance the picture.
“You want to give our receivers and our offense the best preparation possible,” Sarac said.
The desire, said Ball, a redshirt freshman from DeSales, is to leave the practice field each afternoon feeling he made a contribution. For example, running back Carlos Hyde — who is on his way to a 1,000-yard season — gained rave reviews for serving on the scout team during his three-game suspension.
“With the team doing so well and going into championship mode, you don’t want to be that person who is selfish and holding back just because you don’t like what your personal situation is,” Ball said. “You’ve just got to be humble and do what you can to add value to this team.”
Ball’s efforts have been recognized. Last week, he was elevated to a couple of special-teams plays against Illinois because of injuries. But it would take a catastrophe at quarterback to see Barrett elevated to playing status this season. The coaches prefer to save his year of eligibility.
“The big thing I am getting out of this year is quality reps against our starting defense, one of the best defenses in the country,” Barrett said.
The quarterback Barrett had the most fun simulating was Illinois’ Nathan Scheelhaase because “he’s more like my style. I actually got to scramble a little bit.”
Dual-threat capability is the reason Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman targeted Barrett as their first fully recruited quarterback prospect.
“The week we played Wisconsin, their quarterback [Joel Stave] doesn’t run, and on the Tuesday practice that week I forgot about that and took off running on a play,” Barrett said. “[Assistant] coach [Kerry] Coombs was like, ‘J.T., he doesn’t run.’ And I just said, ‘My bad.’ ”