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Last updated: 02/22/2011 6:54 AM

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Football
Barnett Staying Optimistic During Rehab
By Brandon Castel

The photographer's strobe lights flashed all around C.J. Barnett  as he took the field at the Louisiana Superdome back in January.

C. J. Barnett
Photo by Dan Harker
C.J. Barnett

The flashes weren’t specifically for him, but it had to feel like they were as he ran onto the field for the Sugar Bowl wearing his No. 4 Ohio State jersey.

Barnett felt both familiar and foreign being back in pads after nearly four months away from the game, and although it was only for show, he couldn’t help but feel the excitement building inside him over the thought of getting back on the field.

“My knee’s getting better,” said Barnett, who started the first two games at strong safety for the Buckeyes last season.

“I think I should be back by the spring time. I hope to be so I can improve, I’m trying to get better.”

Barnett was originally a cornerback by trade, but that is not what Miami receiver Leonard Hankerson will remember.

The 6-foot-5 wideout took a bone-jarring blast from Barnett during Miami’s visit to Columbus last fall, which left him crumpled on the Turf at Ohio Stadium. The Hurricanes also had a touchdown pass broken by Barnett during their 36-24 loss to Ohio State.

They were the kinds of plays the Buckeyes were used to from All-American Kurt Coleman, but few expected them from his fellow Clayton Northmont product; especially in his second game as a starter.

It was a promising start for the young sophomore who won the starting job away from Orhian Johnson during fall camp, but it was cut short as abruptly as it began. Barnett took a helmet to his right knee in the second half of the game, and just like that, his 2010 season was over before it really began.

“It was an MCL and PCL tear,” Barnett said after the season.

“Nobody wants that. It’s not something you look forward to, but you just have to take whatever comes.”

It’s that motto of taking whatever comes his way that has helped Barnett remain optimistic through one of the toughest experiences of his life.

“That’s what God dealt me,” he said.

“And you just have to make the best out of it.”

A student ambassador in high school and a representative to the Student-Athlete Activity Board (SAAB) at Ohio State, Barnett has kept his sense of humor through the darkness. It comes in handy around the locker room, and especially in the training room with teammates like Tyler Moeller.

“I’m just tired of hanging around him not doing anything in rehab,” Moeller said with his recognizable grin.

“I thought he tore an ACL and I felt bad for him, but now I don’t feel bad at all. He should be back tomorrow, but we’ll see.”

Moeller spent plenty of time with Barnett on the injured reserve in 2010 after tearing his pectoral muscle at Illinois in week five.

“Hopefully Tyler gets better,” Barnett said, joking back at the sixth-year senior to be.

“He’s been prolonging this pec tear or something that’s not that serious that people play with.”

Both Barnett and Moeller are expected to compete for starting spots again next season, but their injuries opened the door for players like Orhian Johnson and Christian Bryant to get their first taste of action last year.

“There were opportunities for other people to come in, like O,” Barnett said of the player who replaced him on the back end of Ohio State’s defense.

“And with other people getting hurt Christian was able to come in. Anybody going down is another opportunity for another guy, so it’s not that bad.”

Barnett had to watch from the sideline as Johnson finished fifth on the team with 50 tackles, along with an interception and two forced fumbles. It wasn’t a total wash, however, as he feels like he is much better prepared mentally heading into spring practice.

“I was able to learn more from not having to play,” said Barnett, who finished with five tackles.

“I was able to sit back and learn the whole defense instead of just learning my position.”

That should help him in 2011, as he battles Zach Domicone, Nate Oliver, Jamie Wood and possibly even Christian Bryant, who will be looking for a position to call his own.

“I’m gonna let him have his time to shine,” Bryant joked.

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