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Buckeye Football Notebook: 'The better approach was to come back to Ohio State, the place that I love'
By Tony Gerdeman

Heading into the 2016 season, there was some thought that this might be J.T. Barrett's last year as an Ohio State quarterback. He would be graduating following the season, and he was expected to have a very productive redshirt junior year. Both of those happened to varying degrees, but Barrett never got all that close to leaving.

"There were a lot of different aspects that went into it," Barrett said of his decision to return. "I talked to my family throughout that whole week we had after the (Fiesta Bowl). I think one of the main things that went into my decision to come back was it was really hard for me to leave Ohio State when that was the worst game I’ve ever been a part of in my life. We didn’t score any points. I’ve never been shut out as a starting quarterback in my life."

Nobody likes to leave on a bad note, but sometimes it's easier if the NFL is greeting you with open arms. That wasn't necessarily the case with Barrett.

"The NFL, the impression of me wasn’t where I wanted it to be," he said. "There were definitely things that I could enhance and improve. So it wasn’t like I was going to take that on with a full head of steam, which I could have done and leave and prove them wrong whether it be pro day or combine.

"That could have been done, but I think the better approach was to come back to Ohio State, the place that I love, the place that I could have an opportunity to win another national championship, and also definitely improve and enhance my stock as far as the NFL is concerned."

Many of Barrett's teammates will have a similar decision to make following the 2017 season. That process of transitioning from a college football player to a future NFL player continued this spring for the Buckeyes. Every year, players take those steps forward and emerge as better players than they were the season before. Urban Meyer saw a few of those guys this spring.

"I think Dre’Mont Jones has gone from a good player to a very good player and bordering on a great player," he said. "Our four defensive ends are outstanding players and they’re where I thought they would be. Damon Webb went from a decent player to a very good player this spring. He’s one of the most improved players on our team.

"On the offensive side, I think everyone knows my feelings about Parris (Campbell) because he had an exceptional spring. And I think Mikey Weber is a lot like Damon Webb. He’s gone from being the third freshman to ever rush for 1,000 yards, so he had a good year, but he really had a good spring."

One player who is expected to be playing his final season in Columbus despite having two years of eligibility is fourth-year junior defensive end Sam Hubbard. Hubbard actually looked into his NFL prospects after the 2016 season, but like J.T. Barrett, decided that there was more left to do in the college game.

Hubbard's high school sports history is well known, as he was once a Notre Dame lacrosse commitment and a noted dodgeball maestro. The longer he stays a defensive end, however, the easier it is to forget that he was actually a 210-pound safety in high school.

With such a diverse athletic background, he probably displays a unique set of characteristics in his play on the field. Is there any one particular that stands out?

"The moves and skills that he demonstrated as a lacrosse player and what I saw him do there, those are the things that show up more than the safety things," cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said. "The ability to flip his hips when he’s running full speed and use his hands to pressure the passer. Think about how difficult it has to be for a 300-pound man to go block a guy who used to be 215 pounds and run all over the field and catch the ball. He’s a unique player. The thing that makes him great is that he has an incredible work ethic. He keeps getting better and better."

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