Michael Barrett was high school football’s ultimate jack of all trades in Georgia.
As a three-star dual-threat quarterback recruit from Valdosta, Ga., Barrett racked up over 7,000 yards of total offense and 83 touchdowns in his high school career. As a linebacker on the other side of the ball, he was the anchor of a defense that delivered a regional championship to Lowndes High School during his senior season. When Barrett signed with Michigan in 2018 as a wide receiver, he drew comparisons to Anquan Boldin from coach Jim Harbaugh, who called him a “receiver who can run like a running back.”
It didn’t take Barrett long to make an impact in Ann Arbor. He emerged as a major piece of the Wolverines’ special teams unit last season and a focal point of the team’s trickery. His first heroic moment came against Army, when his 25-yard pass to defensive back Daxton Hill on a fake punt helped Michigan convert a fourth-and-10. Nearly two months later, Barrett’s 14-yard run on fourth-and-1 helped the Wolverines dupe Maryland’s defense on another fake punt.
Barrett’s road to the VIPER position was anything but a straight line. During his freshman year, defensive coordinator Don Brown’s experimentation led the coaching staff to make the switch.
“(Brown) had me do some defensive drills,” Barrett said on a Zoom call with reporters Thursday. “He saw that I could do all of those drills good. I could cover, I could do all of those things. And he just told me I could play VIPER. That’s just how it was. I started learning from Khaleke (Hudson) and just went from there.”
Now a redshirt sophomore, Barrett is a primary candidate to succeed Hudson as Michigan’s VIPER. Given Barrett’s high school versatility, there wasn’t much of a learning curve.
“Honestly, (VIPER) wasn’t that hard to learn,” Barrett said. “But I feel like that transitioned over from playing quarterback because I had to learn so many plays, so many different positions. I wouldn’t say it just came instantly, but it definitely helped being on offense and already having some defensive experience.”
Under Brown, the Wolverines have put their last two VIPERs — Hudson and 2016 Heisman finalist Jabrill Peppers — into the NFL. With the 2020 season just over three weeks away, Brown said Wednesday the battle for the starting VIPER duties is a two-horse race between Barrett and sophomore Anthony Solomon, with true freshman William Mohan showing promise as well.
“I’ve seen enough out of Michael Barrett to be excited,” Brown said in May. “He runs 4.51 (40-yard dash) at 220 pounds, so that’s a good place to start. He had a tremendous role model in Khaleke Hudson that showed him the way. He’s worked extremely hard and has a very close relationship with (linebackers) Cam McGrone in particular and Josh Ross. That chemistry, that camaraderie that you search for that allows some groups to be exceptional I think is there.”
For Barrett, the unusual offseason provided ample opportunity to get better both mentally and physically. He knew his special teams duties would be a bit more limited this season as his VIPER role expanded, so he took a deep dive into the playbook, learning not only his own positional responsibilities but those of everyone around him. In the weight room, he geared workouts toward cutting body fat so he could improve his coverage skills.
But in his transition from high school jack of all trades to VIPER, Barrett hasn’t lost sight of the versatility that has always separated him from the pack.
“You get the best of both worlds, you could say,” Barrett said. “I get to play a little defensive back, I get to play a little linebacker, I get to blitz, I get to cover. It’s just being able to be all over the field and make plays and always be around the ball.”
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