Like many Americans, Kirk Barton will often pick up the morning paper. However, for Barton, it’s not so much about learning the news of the day as it is to make sure he’s not gotten himself into any trouble.
“I can’t even imagine some of the stuff that I come up with,” the honest Ohio State offensive tackle with a penchant for causing a stir said to reporters Tuesday in Chicago. “Like when I’m sitting here talking to you guys and I’m in the zone, I start spouting off.”
Barton then pretended to scan an imaginary newspaper lying in front of him.
“I just read to make sure, ‘All right, I’m not going to get in trouble, I’m not going to get in trouble, I’m not going to get in trouble.’”
The truth is that Barton isn’t, by nature, a troublemaker. His verbal acuity comes more from just being himself rather than any thirst for attention or love of his own voice.
“I don’t really think I’m like a free spirit or anything,” Barton said. “I just try to be myself. I don’t want to be too scripted or too phony because I think that gets guys in trouble too. If you sound like you’re reading off a teleprompter, people wonder how genuine you are. I don’t do this to get attention.”
Despite that assurance, Barton has seen himself make a variety of headlines during his time at Ohio State. As a redshirt freshman in 2004, Barton was about to make his starting debut when he suggested that the Buckeyes would be better off with sophomore Troy Smith at quarterback rather than classmate Justin Zwick, who had lost his last two starts.
Two years later, Barton thought he was just celebrating OSU’s regular-season ending win over Michigan when he brought a victory cigar and bottle of champagne to the postgame press conference. The result was a mini-controversy after some wondered what example Barton was setting for younger fans, and head coach Jim Tressel called Barton into his office the Tuesday after the game. The result is that Barton might be a little more likely to think before he speaks in 2007.
“I’ll never answer a quarterback question the rest of my life. I’ve learned that one,” Barton said. “I probably won’t bring anything into media rooms ever again. I’ve learned that one. I’ll bring a bottle of water, I guess.”
Those lessons could serve Barton well if he is named a captain, as many expect of the senior offensive tackle. The Massillon, Ohio, native came to Ohio State in 2003 and is the lone 2007 senior who came in with that class. He made started the final seven games of 2004 and was the starter in ’05 before suffering an injury against Penn State that limited his playing time the rest of the year.
In 2006, Barton started all 13 games on the offensive line that paved the way to a national championship game appearance and a Heisman Trophy for Smith. This year, the offense expects to be slightly different, and the 6-6, 310-pounder has acted accordingly during the offseason
“This year is going to be different for him,” said Buckeye defensive end Vernon Gholston. “I know he worked a lot strength-wise and being more athletic and working on becoming a better player. This year I’m looking for bigger things from him.”
It’s that type of on-field leadership that the Buckeyes hope to see from Barton, who considered skipping his senior year and going professional like teammates Ted Ginn Jr., Anthony Gonzalez and Antonio Pittman. Instead, Barton returned, and spent the summer in the same workout group with many of Ohio State’s incoming freshmen.
“I got to know all those guys and I got to yell at them and tell them to finish running through the line and stuff, kind of whip them into shape a little bit,” Barton said. “That’s something that really excited me. I mean, Gonzo doesn’t know any of these guys. Guys that leave early, they kind of miss out on seeing these last few guys. I’ve loved being back.”
That’s not to say that the serious Kirk Barton takes away from Kirk Barton the personality. Teammate Marcus Freeman said Barton’s sense of humor is as evident in the locker room as it is with the media and adds to the practice atmosphere.
“In our locker room he’s that same guy,” Freeman said. “When practice is intense and times are getting tough, Kirk does a great job of loosening up the atmosphere and making sure that everyone is having fun.”
And if the media wants to see Barton’s sense of humor and honesty continue to show through, he said he could think of one stipulation to show his personality.
“It’s a lot easier to be funny when you’re 12-0,” Barton told a collection of scribes. “Just pray for that.”