In the opening episode Tuesday of “ESPN’s All Access: Ohio State Training Days,” OSU coach Urban Meyer stopped C.J. Barnett on the practice field as the junior safety was running by and said: “I like coaching you. Glad you’re a Buckeye, bro.”
Meyer isn’t one to toss around compliments in an insincere way. The players who aren’t endearing themselves to him know exactly where they stand, too.
But Barnett, a two-year starter from Northmont High School, has been lauded by the coaching staff as a player others on the team should emulate.
“Great kid,” co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said. “He’s one of the hardest working players out there. When you try to evaluate what are the top three things in a kid’s life, football is probably going to be right up there with his family and, hopefully, his faith.
“It’s not hard to tell who puts a foot on the pedal and how they go about their business. He’s got the ability. Now, is he Chris Gamble (a two-way starter in 2002-03)? No. But let’s be realistic. Do you have to be? No. There’s a fine line. Everybody is in that same ability range. It comes down to the passion to do the intangible things. He does them.”
Everett Withers, the new safeties coach and a co-defensive coordinator, has had less time than Fickell to get to know Barnett but has had the same favorable impression.
“He’s really working himself into being one of the leaders on the team,” Withers said. “It’s the way he works every day, the way he attacks practices, the way he attacks meetings, how he handles himself off the field.
“He’s a grinder. He’s always working hard on the things he thinks he needs to improve on like tackling in space and covering the deep area of the field. That’s what you like – guys who work on their weaknesses and not their strengths.”
Barnett led the Buckeyes in tackles last season with 75, and he believes his discipline and diligence are essential because he can sometimes be overmatched physically even by some of his teammates.
“I study the game a lot,” he said. “I‘m not the most gifted athlete. There’s some real freaks out there. Bradley Roby runs a 4.31 (40-yard dash). That’s pretty strong. But being smart and knowing what’s going on helps you a lot.
“I’m living a dream,” he added. “I’m starting for one of the best football teams in the nation. There’s lot history in this program, and I get to be a part of it. Coach Meyer said something about that at one of our meetings: How it’s nice to just take a second and step back and enjoy what you have and be grateful for it And I am grateful for this.
“Not many people get to be in the shoes that I’m in, and I get to enjoy it the whole time I’m here.”