News broke Tuesday morning that Andrew Norwell, a former Ohio State offensive lineman, had agreed to terms with the Jacksonville Jaguars to become the highest-paid offensive guard in the NFL — a five-year deal worth $66.5 million, $30 million guaranteed — and one of the early calls of congratulations was from Kirk Barton.
A former All-America OSU lineman in the mid-2000s, Barton had been a graduate assistant coach for the Buckeyes who helped nurture Norwell and his cohorts during the coaching transition from Jim Tressel to Luke Fickell to Urban Meyer.
Barton had blanched when Norwell went undrafted in 2014 but rejoiced when, after Norwell signed a free-agent contract with the Carolina Panthers that year, he emerged as one game’s elite left guards.
“I feel pure happiness for him,” said Barton, now an insurance broker. “The kid was never handed anything. He had to earn everything. He wasn’t invited to the combine. His first signing bonus (with Carolina) was, I think, $3,000.
“To see a kid like that work that hard, to have that kind of mental toughness to persevere and make it, and become one of the top two guards in the league, it’s amazing.”
Norwell could not be reached for comment; the deal has not been announced officially. But he and fellow offensive linemen Jack Mewhort and Corey Linsley were the transitional core that Meyer and his staff leaned on in producing a 12-0 season in 2012.
That’s ironic, considering that when Meyer staged an early-morning workout on Jan. 3, 2012, the day after a loss to Florida in the Gator Bowl, Norwell was a no-show as he slept off the pain of an ankle sprain. Graduate assistant Barton was charged with rousting him.
“Yeah, we didn’t start off real well as an O-line with coach Meyer,” Barton recalled. “It was kind of motivation for us, because he didn’t think much of our unit. But we worked hard to change his perception, and, really, that set the tone for the next three years headed toward the 2014 national championship.”
By then Norwell, Mewhort and Linsley had moved on to the NFL. But unlike Mewhort, drafted in the second round of the 2014 draft by Indianapolis, and Linsley, taken in the fifth round by Green Bay, Norwell had to fight his way in through the back door.
“There’s always going to be holes in the process, and there’s going to be people who are not great at evaluating talent,” Barton said. "But when a guy is as decorated as Norwell, was as productive as he was for us, and he doesn’t even get a combine invite, it makes you scratch your head.
“I think people kind of fall in love with the sexy athleticism of some guys, and they’re not quite as in love with the toughness, the mental toughness, and really, the will to win. … Andrew’s will to win was second to none, and that’s why he is where he is.”