COLUMBUS, Ohio -- After his solo, private watch party was over and the chicken wings were all devoured, J.T. Barrett drove over to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and walked to a podium in the team room.
As simple as that act was for an athlete who has rewritten the record books as the quarterback at Ohio State, the meaning wasn’t lost on Barrett.
Two years ago as a redshirt freshman, Barrett took the Buckeyes to the brink of the postseason. But a fractured ankle in the regular-season finale against Michigan put him on the sideline, on wheels and out of the spotlight as Ohio State went on to win the College Football Playoff without him.
Now, with the Buckeyes’ date against No. 2 Clemson in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl officially confirmed, it’s finally his turn.
“I'm actually a healthy body,” Barrett joked. “As you see, I'm not on a scooter or anything.
“I think it's a blessing just to be healthy throughout the long season. Just to be able to play, man, it's crazy. I'm thankful for that. ... It's one of the things when I first came here, I wrote down my goals. One of them was to win a national championship. We won one, but I didn't get to play in it.”
Barrett still was a meaningful contributor on the way to that championship, both for the work he did while healthy, after being thrust into the starting role on short notice after Braxton Miller’s training camp injury, and for what he did as a behind-the-scenes leader helping Cardale Jones prepare for his postseason rampage.
But there’s obviously a difference between delivering on the sport’s biggest stage and performing in the pressure-packed playoff games and watching from the sideline, particularly as it might relate to Barrett’s eventual legacy with Ohio State.
Thanks to all the piles of records and accolades he has earned over the last three seasons, Barrett has become well-versed in deflecting that conversation and saving it for when he’s “retired from playing ball and sitting at the house somewhere in the south.” But for somebody who just as quickly points to wins and losses instead of his touchdown passes or rushing totals, the significance of this month for his career isn’t likely to be something he’s unaware of as Ohio State returns to the practice field.
“Right now the main thing is to win this game against Clemson,” Barrett said. “I think that's what I'm about. I think at the end of the day, that's all that really matters: Are you able to win football games? I feel like, you know, there are players that may have put up a lot of points, but at the end of the day, their team, they don't win.
“That's what we talk about at the end of the day. Are you a winner or did your team lose? I feel like I'm a winner. I'm worried about winning this game against Clemson and making sure we get everybody on the same page, go out there and play our best.”
The Buckeyes obviously have done that before in the short history of the College Football Playoff, and Barrett has seen up close what it takes. From the training camp-like practices early in December to the events surrounding the game, and then the turnaround from the semifinal to the title game, Barrett has been through that before with the Buckeyes.
He wasn’t able to experience everything on the field, of course. But Barrett’s moment to live all of it without any limitations has arrived.
“You know, he was an incredible contributor to our playoff run two years ago, even when he wasn’t playing,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “Obviously he had a great year as a redshirt freshman, but his leadership skills and his ability to help Cardale prepare for those big games was remarkable.
“J.T. is like a son to me. I love him, and he knows it. We’re very close, and I’m anxious to watch him prepare for this big-time game.”
Once the television was turned off and the wings were gone, Barrett officially could get started and turn his attention to the playoff -- his first as a healthy quarterback.