It was reported last week that junior graduate transfer quarterback Blake Barnett was informed by USF Football that he would be the starter in the home opener against Elon. Those reports were officially confirmed by head coach Charlie Strong in a press conference today.
#USF coach Charlie Strong confirms Blake Barnett will be the starter. Said the team needed to see who the guy is going to be.— Austin DeWitt (@austinfdewitt) August 28, 2018
While initial reports only named Barnett the starter against Elon, it seemed as if Strong was committed to Barnett under center for the forseeable future. That’s not to say that things can’t change, but Strong harped on the importance of the team knowing who the guy was going to be.
“It’s going to help the continuity,” Strong said. “Guys are going to know when you call out ‘ones,’ here comes the guy that steps up. We needed that continuity. The offensive line knows now who their quarterback is, as well as the running backs and wide receivers. The great thing about it is it was a really good battle. I don’t ever want to talk about rebuild and reload because we have options.”
Deciding the starting quarterback is tough enough when it is only two guys battling for the position. It is even tougher when you have three talented quarterbacks. Strong made it clear that he got input from essentially everyone person on the team before the decision was made.
“What I did is I walked into the offensive staff, well first what I did, because I’m always in the defensive room, I asked those guys,” Strong said. “‘Who do you guys think should be the guy?’ And then I walked into the offensive staff and said ‘I’m not gonna tell you guys who the defense said.’ I said ‘if you guys had to pick your starter today who would you pick?’ I just went around the table to each coach and said ‘why, why ,why?’ so then [offensive coordinator] Sterlin [Gilbert] and I sat down and talked, but what I didn’t want to do is put it all on his shoulder. I wanted everyone else’s opinion...At the end of the day were gonna pick a starter I like to hear what everyone else thinks and how they feel about it.”
Strong pointed out that, through his questioning, it wasn’t a consensus from everyone that Barnett should be the starter.
“I’m not gonna say it was a consensus,” Strong said. “But guys had, ya know, each guy had a guy that they liked. Cause like I said each one of them ranked, like you look at Brett, Brett’s strong enough that he knows the offense he can throw the ball put us in position and even [Oladokun] can beat you with his speed and throw the ball. So, now who is going to be the guy? We gotta go and get ready to go play. We gotta make a decision.”
Strong told the media that Barnett was the one that reached out to him to say he wanted to transfer to USF. Barnett, a former five star recruit lost the starting job in his first start for Alabama. He was later unable to win the starting job at Arizona State before transferring to USF. There were questions surrounding Barnett’s maturity level at his first two destinations, but Strong said Barnett’s maturity level is what impressed him most about his quarterback. Strong believes that Barnett’s path has made him mentally tough.
Strong isn’t worried about the mental fragility of Blake Barnett. “He’s been through it.” #USF— Award Winner Nathan Bond (@BullsNathanSBN) August 28, 2018
“Barnett has been through it,” Strong said. “Even now, you can tell his maturity level is older than the rest of the guys. My man is married and has a family so it’s gonna be a little different for him…He’s seen it all. I’m not worried about his mental makeup at all. I think this is good for him. I think [being at USF] allows him to calm down and be himself.”
Charlie Strong makes all incoming players tell their story to their teammates. Strong recounted what Barnett said to the team when he first got to USF that exemplifies Barnett’s growth as a person and realization of his past mistakes.
“I was a five-star, but it probably happened too fast for me. So, now that I’ve settled down, I have a family, I have a child, it’s a totally different perspective and I see it differently now. My fourth game of my junior season I got an offer from UCLA. Think how big my head was. I go to the [Elite 11] competition and win it. Really think how big my head was. Now I go to Alabama and I’m the starting quarterback at Alabama my freshman year.”
Barnett was named the starter over two veteran players in quarterbacks Brett Kean and Chris Oladokun. It is certainly reasonable to say that naming a transfer the starter over two players who are more established in the locker room could be a point of friction. Strong himself admitted that he had this fear.
“Ya know, a lot of times that is one of you’re biggest fears,” Strong said. “Because they have developed those relationships, so once you develop a relationship you don’t know what clique they’re in. So, OK, if that guy is in that clique than this set of guys will be mad cause we didn’t select him. But it wasn’t like that, when you want to win I think you set all of that aside and you look at it. They were smart enough to say, ‘who’s gonna be the guy?’ It never came down to where we are going to have some guys upset. And even me, I just try to get a feel for the team and see what the pulse was and I asked some guys, whoever comes out are you guys have an issue with it? And we’re still dealing with selfish young players that as long as you can get ‘em the ball somehow they don’t care who’s back there. If I could throw it, if I was the QB, they’d be happy about it. But no, it never came down to that. You would feel like it, because there’s guys that have been here and they have already developed those relationships and I tell em, I said ‘Guys, don’t ever feel like cause you’ve been at the program three years its your job, you have to go and win that job.’”
Divisiveness in a locker room is never a good thing. So the endorsement of veteran wide receiver Tyre McCants certainly helps Barnett and his ability to earn the trust of his teammates. McCants explained how impressed he has been with Barnett throughout camp.
#USF WR Tyre McCants said Barnett has come in and meshed really well with players in the offense. Says he is very poised and gives confidence to the offense.— Austin DeWitt (@austinfdewitt) August 28, 2018
While he is fully behind his new starting quarterback, McCants had a message to his long-time teammates Brett Kean and Chris Oladokun.
McCants: I told (Brett Kean and Chris Oladokun) to keep their head up. You never know when they’ll be called into action. #USF— Award Winner Nathan Bond (@BullsNathanSBN) August 28, 2018
McCants is right. At some point this season someone will likely be called into action as the backup quarterback, but coach Strong doesn’t have a solidified QB2 just yet.
“I think, it’s how the game goes, who will come in next.”