Buzz around the Arizona State football program this offseason has ebbed and flowed, and the addition of Alabama transfer quarterback Blake Barnett may have signaled its high tide.
Many consider the former five-star recruit a favorite to win the Sun Devils’ starting quarterback job this offseason. However, Barnett doesn’t take his position for granted, and isn’t interested in simply being handed the role — he wants to prove himself worthy of it.
“I’m a competitor,” Barnett said during ASU’s spring media day on Wednesday. “I wanna compete, and I wanna be able to make an impact on this team the best that I can. I’m hoping to be able to make my impact as the starting quarterback, but that’s what I’m competing for.”
The 6-foot-5 gunslinger joined the program not because of a guarantee he would be gifted the starting job, but for opportunity. He’ll be the first to tell you what many learn too late: Regardless of what’s said, nothing in college football is guaranteed.
“That’s really a great college football basis for anything. You’re going somewhere, you’re going there to compete,” he said. “Nothing’s given to you, nothing’s assumed.”
The same holds true not only of personnel decisions, but staff changes, too. Barnett’s recruitment was aided by former ASU offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, who accepted an offer to serve in the same roles at Auburn a month after helping the Sun Devils land Barnett.
The quarterback said Lindsey’s departure was admittedly a little surprising, though not in a negative way. Instead he takes the lesson in stride.
“Being in this for a couple years, you can kind of discover you shouldn’t make a decision based on one coach,” he said. “From firsthand experience, they can leave.”
Nevertheless, the move may have turned out to be a blessing in disguise. To replace Lindsey, the Sun Devils tugged the Tuscaloosa pipeline once more by naming former Crimson Tide receivers coach Billy Napier their offensive coordinator. Barnett and Napier were at Alabama together for nearly two seasons.
Barnett says he likens their relationship to that of a co-worker or part-time boss of two years, adding that having a pre-established relationship with Napier is a good foundation. Though despite the connection, Barnett says he understands he won’t simply be handed the starting job.
“He knows my skill sets, I know how he is as a coach. But at the end of the day, I think that everyone has a clean slate,” Barnett said of Napier. “At the end of the day, I think that everyone has a clean slate.
“With all this competition, I don’t think there’s any unfair advantages, I think that we all kind of understand our roles, we understand that we have to compete and that’s what I’m looking forward to, that’s why I came here.”
At Alabama, Barnett was beaten out by Jalen Hurts, a crucial development influencing his decision to move on. The situation has only spurred Barnett’s drive to improve.
A key step in growth — both in football, and in everyday life — is self-awareness of one’s flaws. The Corona, Calif. native demonstrated he’s cognizant of his own Wednesday, pointing out weaknesses in his highly-touted game.
“You always have to keep your footwork on par,” he said. “When it comes to mechanics and stuff, the biggest thing where I see flaws is I kind of have a strange delivery. I took pitching lessons when I was a little bit younger, and it kind of affected me. I don’t really think it has an effect on how I deliver the ball, but it has an effect on how quick it gets out. One of the biggest things I’m trying to work on is shortening up my motion.”
In an effort to correct this, Barnett has worked with renowned quarterback coaches Dennis Gile and George Whitfield, working to maximize his potential, most recently with the latter due to conveniency of location during the summer.
He says their influence extends beyond the football field.
"I’ve built great relationships with both of them,” Barnett said. “Recently I’ve been working hard with George. He’s brought some great things to my game, and I really appreciate both of them, and I really appreciate what George is doing with me right now.”
Should Barnett’s hard work prove apparent early on, he could potentially secure the starting role before the season starts. However, had he not earned a clearance from the NCAA in late January, he would have had to forfeit four starts to his counterparts, regardless of whether he’d won the job over the offseason or not.
The transfer called the league’s decision an exciting moment he was looking forward to.
“Getting those four games, it’s really important, just being able to compete — if I’m fortunate enough to get the starting spot — to make an impact right away,” he said. “It’s huge, especially being in the position that I’m in as a quarterback. There’s one guy on the field, so finding that out was really nice.”
Still, Barnett knows there’s work to be done, and impacting his teammates is crucial to fulfilling his goals.
“(I’m) just working hard, competing, doing everything I can to not only contribute to this team, but affect the people around here,” he said. “I came here and am building these relationships so that I can be the best leader that I can be. Not only not the field, but off the field as well.
“Everyone’s kind of looking for guidance sometimes in life, and I’m 21 years old — I don’t have everything figured out. But I’d like to affect the people around me, and I’d like to do it in a positive way not only off the field, but I wanna do it on the field as well, because I’m here to win games. I’m here to win championships, and I think I have a good mentality when it comes to winning, and being successful. And I think it starts with leading and affecting people.”
Barnett’s quest for the starting role will begin on Monday, March 13, when the Sun Devils begin spring practices in Tempe.
“I want to compete and hopefully contribute to the team as best as I can,” he said. “And I’m looking forward to hopefully contributing to this team as a starting quarterback.”