The pass still was in the air when Jim Garfield saw J.T. Barrett sprinting toward him, yelling words he hasn’t forgotten four years later.
Garfield was coach of Rider High School in Wichita Falls, Texas. Barrett was his sophomore quarterback playing in the pressure cooker of the state playoffs in a tight game against El Paso Andress.
Rider had just gained possession on a turnover, and Garfield urged his young quarterback to capitalize.
“I snatched him up before he went on the field and told him, ‘We have to score a touchdown right now,’ ” Garfield said yesterday. “The offensive coordinator called a pass play. As soon as J.T. released the ball, he just came running over to me — I don’t even think he saw the pass completed — and said, ‘ How do you like that?!’ ”
Sure enough, it was a touchdown, and Rider cruised to victory behind an underclassman who clearly wasn’t overwhelmed by the moment. High-school playoffs are a big deal in Texas, after all.
But now Barrett is poised for an even bigger stage, and he will need all the confidence he can muster.
With Braxton Miller out for the season after reinjuring his right shoulder on Monday, Barrett is on the cusp of being the starting quarterback for Ohio State as a redshirt freshman after overtaking Cardale Jones for the backup job last week.
Barrett, a 6-foot-1, 225-pounder, doesn’t have Miller’s arm strength — or Jones’ — and he doesn’t have Miller’s scrambling ability, but those who know him best believe that he is up to the task.
“J.T. Barrett will respond to the challenge,” Garfield said, “and he will lead the Buckeye Nation.
“He’ll do great. I have no doubt about it because of his leadership ability and his athletic ability. He’s one of the best leaders I’ve ever been around (in 28 years as a coach). He understands what he can and can’t do. He won’t overextend himself in any way, as far as making stupid mistakes. He’ll do what he has to do to make sure the offense operates.”
Still, it is a daunting task to take over as quarterback without having had a single college snap for a team that entered the camp as a national championship contender.
Barrett, who was not made available to the media yesterday, hasn’t taken a game snap since October 2012. His senior season at Rider was cut short when he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Barrett probably would have redshirted anyway in 2013 with Miller and folk-hero backup Kenny Guiton ahead of him.
But the knee injury made that a certainty. Barrett understands the frustration of a season-ending injury, so when he called home on Monday night, his thoughts were more with Miller than with his new status.
“He really enjoyed running behind Braxton,” said Joe Barrett, J.T.’s father. “He was hoping it was going to carry on throughout the season. He knows what it’s like to really be injured. It brought back bad memories for him.”
Guiton, who played for the Los Angeles Kiss of the Arena Football League earlier this year, shared the quarterbacks room with Barrett last year. He came away impressed.
“Right now, he is in a pretty good spot,” Guiton said after visiting the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. “He knows he needs to come into the game ready because he knows right now he’s probably going to be the starter. So he’s in a great spot to work hard and prepare hard, just like he’s been doing through spring ball and preseason camp.
“One of the things I see in him is he is a very smart guy. He catches on to things fast. And I think on the path he’s on, he will be ready for Navy (on Aug. 30). All he has to do is watch their film, know what they’re doing, and once he gets the game plan from the coaches, I think he will be good at executing that plan because he is a smart kid.”
Garfield described Barrett as someone who is naturally mature.
“He was born older, man,” Garfield said. “He was one of those kids who understood what responsibility and leadership was. He’s got a mother and father who are just tremendous individuals. They learned him up right as he was young.”
There’s still a chance that Jones, who got some experience last year, could win the job back. If that happens, his high-school coach is just as confident as Barrett’s that he will succeed.
“I think he can take them to the promised land, personally,” Cleveland Glenville coach Ted Ginn Sr. said. “He’s a great leader, a great player. He’s a pro-style quarterback who can do it all. He can run it. He can throw it.”