Ohio State's Barton takes leadership role
Tucked inside a ballroom in the Hyatt Regency in downtown Chicago, Kirk Barton looked out of place. Ballrooms and 300-pounders don’t exactly conjure images of Fred Astaire.
Barton, Ohio State’s 310-pound right tackle, was a few feet from Head Coach Jim Tressel and worlds away from Perry High School.
Three weeks ago during the Big Ten’s media day, Barton sat at a circular table and politely answered questions — the obvious, the dumb and the legitimate — from all sorts of reporters. At times, he looked alone.
Maybe he feels that way.
Barton doesn’t have to look far to find a teammate who came to Ohio State with him in 2003. Just into a mirror. When Ohio State takes the field Saturday against Division I-AA Youngstown State, Barton will be the last remnant of a once-promising recruiting class.
“It’s like watching an empire crumble,” Barton said. “It was like piece by piece.
“A guy here. A guy there. Now it’s down to one brick.”
Fourteen turns to one
Ohio State welcomed 14 new faces in 2003. Some left early for the NFL. Some were kicked off the team for disciplinary reasons.
Two Stark County players from that class are still with Ohio State, albeit in student-coach roles. North Canton’s Curt Lukens had his career ended by a bum shoulder. An ankle injury sent Massillon wide receiver Devin Jordan to the sideline.
Barton opted to return to Columbus for a fifth year rather than chase the NFL dream.
Against the Penguins, Barton will see another former recruiting classmate. Tight end Louis Irizarry, dismissed from Ohio State after an assault charge, transferred to Youngstown State. He will be a captain for the Penguins, standing across from Barton at midfield for the pregame coin toss.
“Those are the guys you come in with and think you’re going to be friends forever,” Barton said. “They just all fell by the wayside.”
Barton is the lone fifth-year senior. He was voted a captain by teammates.
While Ohio State is inexperienced, it is not young. Todd Boeckman, who will take over at quarterback, is 23. Kicker Ryan Pretorius is 28.
Because the 2003 class melted away, the Buckeyes are left with more than Heisman Trophy shoes to fill. Troy Smith provided highlights on the field and leadership behind the scenes.
The search for leadership may be a reason Tressel had his players read “Talent is Never Enough.” The 272-page book is authored by John C. Maxwell, who wrote “The 360 Degree Leader,” which was last year’s summer reading requirement for players.
Ohio State lost its focus at the end of last season. The Buckeyes were hammered in the national title game by Florida. That fact is not lost on anyone on Ohio State’s team.
Tressel designed the security code to end in 01, a reminder the Buckeyes are 0-1 this year.
“You have to punch that thing in about 15, 20 times a day,” one player said. “It’s impossible to forget.”
For nearly seven months, all players have read and heard about the performance in the desert.
“Being humbled is a healthy thing,” Tressel said. “Most disturbing is we didn’t play like we were capable. ... That’s the most difficult conclusion to have to face.”
Ohio State is breaking in a new quarterback, the third time in Tressel’s seven seasons he’s had to do it. Boeckman will get the call.
Expect more of a traditional offense with fewer four and five receiver sets.
Tressel wants to use tight ends Rory Nicol and Jake Ballard more. None of the QBs has the grasp of the offense that Smith did.
“I don’t think you can take Troy’s ready list and say, ‘OK, you three guys should be able to execute and understand all these things, ” Tressel said. “Now we have to put that together with the personnel and what they do best and what they have a grasp on.”
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