J.T. Barrett, who holds Ohio State's career records in most quarterback categories, has a hunch he’s going to experience yet another first in his final game at Ohio Stadium on Saturday.
Before the game, he and 18 teammates in their last season will be introduced individually, trotting onto the field to get a hug from coach Urban Meyer before making the way to their families.
“I might see my mom cry for the first time, that’s a big deal,” Barrett deadpanned. “I’m 22 years old and I haven’t seen that. I think it’s just going to be a good time, I’m not going to do too much reflecting; we’ve still got a ballgame. It will be good just having my parents out there.”
Senior day in odd-numbered years is never about the final game of Ohio State's regular season, much less the final game of a career. Barrett and his teammates still have to play next week at Michigan, for starters.
If they beat Illinois on Saturday and Michigan loses at Wisconsin, the Buckeyes will clinch the Big Ten East spot in the league championship game against Wisconsin. If they win out and things fall right elsewhere, they could be in the College Football Playoff.
So senior day marks only the beginning of the end, but Meyer said it’s an important tradition.
“It’s a tribute to our fans, the greatest fans in the land,” Meyer said. “And it’s an opportunity for our players to salute our fans. It’s not ‘goodbye’ by us. We’ve got so much to play for, so much going on.”
Barrett, the fourth-year starting quarterback in his fifth year on the team and already an OSU graduate, said he figured out the importance of the fandom as a redshirt freshman when, walking through an airport wearing an OSU top, he heard someone shout “O-H.” He responded with “I-O.”
“We have a bond, like we’re connected in some way through Ohio State,” Barrett said. “I think that’s amazing with this great university. Also, the bond we have here of being part of the football team, the brotherhood that we have is something that’s undeniable, it can’t be broken. … It’s different, I feel like, than any other place.”
Senior defensive tackle Tracy Sprinkle remembered the feeling five years ago of running out with the team for the first time.
“I’d say it was a lot of jitters; going out there and playing in front of 100,000 was way different than being in Elyria, Ohio, playing in front of 500 maybe,” Sprinkle said. “I’m just looking forward to going out there for one more time in the 'Shoe and seeing how those great fans cheer us on.”
It’s going to be different for sure, defensive end Tyquan Lewis said.
“It’s bittersweet, it really hasn’t hit me yet,” said Lewis, a fifth-year player who, like Barrett, already has his degree. “There’s probably going to be a lot of emotions running through.”
But will there be a problem then of turning the focus back on the game?
“Not really,” Barrett said. “We’ve got to get the Illibuck trophy.”