Deep in the bowels of SHI Stadium in Piscataway, Michael Barrett made a statement. Not one with words, but one with just a look.
As he stood at the podium after his career game against Rutgers — where he recorded two interceptions one of which being a pick-six — he proudly donned Michigan’s turnover buffs. Questions were asked, then answered, but all the while Barrett still looked into the room through the $3000 pair of Cartier sunglasses. As the center of attention, he almost looked like a quarterback.
“They told me you can go to the interview with them if you get two (interceptions),” Barrett laughed.
The circumstances — being the player of the game — felt almost hard to believe. That’s a position that Barrett hasn’t really been in all that much in his long career at Michigan. Since he came to the program in 2018, Barrett has never had a concrete role. In his senior season last year he played just 186 defensive snaps.
But look even years before that, to when Barrett was a high school quarterback from Valdosta, Ga., and it becomes even more unfathomable. Well, that is for anyone except Barrett’ old coach and mentor — former Lowndes High School football coach Randy McPherson:
“It was great, it didn’t surprise me,” McPherson told The Daily of Barrett’s performance against the Scarlet Knights.
When McPherson had Barrett under his tutelage, Barrett was a lethal dual-threat quarterback. He elevated the Vikings’ offense to near the top of their leauge. And as McPherson emphasized: Lowndes did not play in a weak division — this was a legit football conference in southern Georgia.
Barrett the quarterback can seem so far from who he is today. McPherson told stories of Barrett’s success at Lowndes, and in them, he always had the ball in his hands.
McPherson’s favorite performance of Barrett’s was the time he rushed for 154 yards and threw a pair of touchdowns in a thrilling 51-45 double-overtime win over Colquitt County to give the Vikings the regional title.
“That game,” McPherson paused. “I’ll never forget that game. … That’s the best performance I remember, but there are so many of them. Every time, every game (Barrett) played quarterback, he’s throwing touchdown passes and running everywhere. Every game. Every game.”
It was clear how highly McPherson thinks of Barrett, back then as his quarterback, and now. But that isn’t unique to the former Lowndes coach, ask anyone inside of the Michigan football program and they’ll speak just as highly.
“(Barrett) understands the defense and how we play up front just in terms of strike and block, staying square, setting edges building the wall,” Michigan linebackers coach George Helow said Wednesday. “He knows what to do, how to do it, why it’s important to do it that way. (I’m) really just proud of Mike.”
Barrett also understands his role as a middle linebacker in the Wolverines’ defense to a tee, and that shows on every play. That’s why Helow gushed about him for minutes on end, that’s why he plays nearly every snap and that’s probably why he nabbed two interceptions in Piscataway.
If you want to know why Barrett sees the game and understands the defense so well, look no further than his days leading the Vikings. What made him a good quarterback is also what makes him a standout linebacker.
“Linebacker is the quarterback of the defense and it’s kinda like you get the same point of view from the opposite side,” Barrett said Monday. “Those years of playing quarterback helped me to be able to read offenses better, read run plays, read routes, different things like that. And just being able to anticipate what the offense is going to do based on movements, motions and different things that they can do based off of formations.”
If it seems like a lot, that’s because it is. Linebackers are asked to do so much on every play. They have different checks for coverages and for blitzes; they always have to be ready to make important decisions.
Barrett’s knowledge of the other side — gained from being Lowndes’s quarterback for two years — is what separates him from his peers. Its why he was in the right place at the right time not once, but twice on Saturday.
Again, McPherson knows why:
“(Barrett) is a really smart dude too,” he said. “I can’t speak for him, but I’m sure he felt really comfortable. … (So) it doesn’t surprise me, he’s a football player.” McPherson paused before emphasizing: “He is a football player.”
It’s really that simple. Nine games into his breakout season and after four years of waiting, Barrett and everything he brings is finally popping.
He’s making an impact, and that’s all he’s ever wanted. At a press conference before the season, before Barrett had even established himself as Michigan’s starting inside linebacker, he vocalized that thought:
“I just felt like however I can get on the field, however I can make an impact, that’s where I want to be,” Barrett said on Sep. 5. “However I can make that big play, make that big hit, whatever I can do to help the team. … That’s what I got to do.”
It was almost like he manifested it. Just look at him now: Barrett’s doing everything he envisioned. But to those who have been around him for a while, this doesn’t come as a surprise — especially not to McPherson.
“He gets it,” McPherson said. “He’s got a lot of football sense, man.”
And wherever Barrett may be on the field, that much is always obvious.