Earning a college degree, getting married, welcoming a first-born child into the world, moving across the country, and taking one last shot at a dream job are all life-altering events. Imagine reaching each of these milestones in a single year.

Now, envision doing so at 21 and 22 years old. That’s life for USF quarterback Blake Barnett.

Since his wedding to surfer Maddie Peterson last August, Barnett and his wife added Brooks Archer to their family in March. Barnett finished his undergraduate studies at Arizona State a few weeks later, and with an opportunity to play quarterback at USF, moved from Tempe to Tampa.

Just reading that timeline may be enough to spark anxiety in some. For a young man finding his right fit, however, a seemingly chaotic course of events brings stability.

“Everything just happened so fast, and it’s been so nonstop, it’s allowed me to transition pretty smoothly, honestly,” Barnett said. “With so much going on and so many moving parts, I’ve been prepared to adapt on the fly. Things have worked out.”

With a good decade’s worth of life experiences packed into a calendar year, it’s no wonder USF head coach Charlie Strong calls Barnett, “very mature.” Barnett has had to be, juggling adult responsibilities with his continued pursuit of football glory; a pursuit that saw the California kid and former 5-star prospect traverse the continent and land at his third FBS program in as many years.

Barnett arrived at Alabama in 2015, arguably the most ballyhooed recruit of that year’s class, stepping into the most successful program in college football. His unique combination of skills — boasting a strong arm, uncanny field vision and quick feet — seemed like a potential game-changer. If Alabama dominated the landscape with quarterbacks primarily known as game managers under Nick Saban, imagine the Crimson Tide with elite athleticism and playmaking ability.

After redshirting behind Jacob Coker in 2015, however, Barnett’s time behind center at Alabama in ’16 was brief. He rotated with true freshman Jalen Hurts in the Week 1 drubbing of USC, and looked good doing so — 5-of-6 for 100 yards with a touchdown — but otherwise was relegated to mop-up duty in routs of Western Kentucky and Kent State before his time with the Tide ended.

He transferred to Arizona State, and — upon winning an appeal to the NCAA for immediately eligibility — jumped into competition for the starting job with returning starter and current Sun Devils quarterback, Manny Wilkins. Wilkins was the one constant of Arizona State’s offense from the time Barnett first committed to the Sun Devils to his departure, however.

Assistants Jay Norvell and Chip Lindsey, who helped recruit Barnett to Arizona State, were gone just a few weeks later for the head-coaching and offensive coordinator vacancies at Nevada and Auburn, respectively. Sun Devils head coach Todd Graham was fired in November, and the arrival of Herm Edwards ushered in an entirely new staff.

Wilkins was coming off a strong 2017, his fourth year in the program, and wholesale turnover limited Barnett’s opportunities for growth in the desert.

“Almost every quarterback does [need time to grow into their potential],” said Barnett’s Santiago (Corona) High School head coach, Jeff Steinberg. “The whole myth about them being child prodigies; there’s very few who are.”

Steinberg, now the coach at Beaumont High School in California, remains in contact with Barnett. Maintaining that pipeline back home gave Barnett some gridiron support and stability at a time when his football career was shrouded in uncertainty.

“It means a lot. He’s been by my side through the ups and downs, since my freshman year of high school,” Barnett said.

Barnett became something of a star in football circles during his high school years. The national attention heaped on Barnett before he ever left Southern California for Tuscaloosa set a high bar that’s now become the standard for quarterbacks of Barnett’s mold.

He checked every box for a blue-chip prospect: 6-foot-5, rocket arm, impressive pedigree that included individual workouts with former NFL starter Jeff Garcia.

“People get caught up in stuff like that, whether a kid’s got a strong arm or he’s got the height requirement. When you get to the next level, they’ve pretty much all got that,” Steinberg said. “The guys who seem to go far are the guys who really love the game, and the work that goes into getting ready.”

Steinberg said that’s exactly the kind of attitude Barnett exuded at Santiago, and it’s the attribute Strong said has made the quarterback an immediate fit for USF.

Barnett’s arrival as a graduate transfer in May offered a solution to replace Quinton Flowers, a three-year starter, dual-threat standout and one of the most electrifying players in college football. Flowers rushed for more yards than any quarterback in 2016 save Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. That was Willie Taggart’s last season as the Bulls head coach.

Strong and his staff arrived before the 2017 season, and understood the caliber of playmaker they inherited in Flowers.

“The thing about Q, they did something totally different when we got here, and they were really good on offense,” Strong said. “So [offensive coordinator Sterlin] Gilbert took some of what they did and played to [Flowers]’ strengths.

“That’s what coach Gilbert has done with Blake,” Strong added. “Blake has a different skill set, so he’s played to that skill set and allowed Blake to have success because of Blake learning and doing everything we’ve asked him to do.”

Gilbert’s offense has showcased Barnett’s arm. He heads into a Week 3 matchup with Illinois at Soldier Field sporting 512 yards and five touchdowns, while completing better than 69 percent of his pass attempts. At the same time, the Bulls have not lost the threat of the run from the quarterback position in the transition from Flowers to Barnett.

His two touchdown carries in the fourth quarter last Saturday against Georgia Tech sealed a USF win, and capped an 86-yard day for Barnett.

Source: Athlon Sports
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