AUBURN — Woody Barrett still misses Auburn. He’s not afraid to admit that.
It’s the school he chose as a four-star dual-threat quarterback recruit out of West Orange High in Winter Garden, Florida, picking the Tigers over his other two finalists, Alabama and Oregon. It’s the school where he began his college career, the school he dreamed about one day starring for on the field.
On Saturday, four years and three months after first committing to Auburn in June of 2015, Barrett may finally get to take the field in a regular-season game at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Only it won’t be as a member of the Tigers — it will be as a quarterback for Kent State.
“It’s going to be a good time back,” Barrett said before the season. “A lot of raw emotions going to be running through my body, but I’m excited for it. I’m ready for it.”
Barrett may not be back as the starting quarterback for the Golden Flashes, however. That was his role to begin the season, after he completed 58.7 percent of his passes for 2,339 yards and 11 touchdowns and rushed 163 times for 503 yards and seven touchdowns during his first season with the school last year, but he struggled to start the second.
The junior fumbled on the team’s first play from scrimmage against Arizona State on Aug. 29 and completed only 1 of his first 6 passes before being benched in favor of Dustin Crum. Barrett re-entered the eventual 30-7 loss in the second half and led a touchdown drive — prompting head coach Sean Lewis to refer to him as “our guy” — but when Kent State next took the field against Kennesaw State this past Saturday, he was no longer the starter.
Crum completed 17 of 23 passes for 192 yards and totaled two touchdowns in a 26-23 overtime victory. Barrett was in for only one play, when he carried the ball for no gain.
But that doesn’t mean he won’t get a chance to play against his former team on Saturday.
“We’ve got two really good quarterbacks,” Lewis said earlier this week, according to the Akron Beacon Journal. “We’re going to play them both, and we’re going to find a way to win by playing them both.”
Barrett probably doesn’t mind the challenge. He’s gotten used to fighting for himself over the past three years.
He signed with Auburn in 2016 as a star in the high school ranks. He passed for 2,018 yards, rushed for 1,413 yards and totaled 43 touchdowns as a senior at West Orange. He was the No. 6-ranked dual-threat quarterback in his class, just two spots behind Jalen Hurts.
But Barrett never appeared in a game for the Tigers. He redshirted the 2016 season behind Sean White, Jeremy Johnson and John Franklin III, and seemed to quickly fall behind newcomers Jarrett Stidham and Malik Willis during the spring of 2017 after Chip Lindsey took over for Rhett Lashlee as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
Exactly one month after playing just six snaps during Auburn’s A-Day spring game, Barrett announced his decision to transfer from the program.
“There were a lot of guys on the depth chart. Things weren’t going my way. So I just felt like it was the best decision for me,” Barrett said. "It was a learning experience. You’ve got to grow, and I moved on. It’s nothing but love.”
It was a long process to get from that moment to where he is now. He went through what he described as a "tough stage" of his career when he transferred to Copiah-Lincoln Community College — Wesson, Mississippi, is quite the change of pace from the Orlando area of Florida and even Auburn — but he came through the other side.
After completing 49.8 percent of his passes for 1,294 yards and eight touchdowns and rushing 121 times for for 485 yards and six more scores in 2017, he signed with Kent State as the fifth-ranked JUCO quarterback in his class.
“I learned that I won’t let nothing hold me back and that I’m not a quitter despite all the adversity I’ve been through,” Barrett said. “That I’m a fighter and I’m going to keep on going until the end, no matter what. Despite where I go, despite which school I’m at — big school, small school, it really don’t matter — I just want to play football.”
Getting to do it at Auburn, even if it’s not for Auburn, would be special for Barrett. He still has plenty of friends on the team he keeps in contact with, though he didn’t want to single out any by name. He still has great appreciation for what he learned during his year on campus, both mentally on the football field and physically working with strength and conditioning coach Ryan Russell. He still has a fan in head coach Gus Malzahn.
“Woody Barrett, first of all, is one of my favorites,” he said Tuesday. “Just a fine young man, a joy to coach and recruit. We root for him all but this one. He's a quality person and quality player."
Malzahn said Auburn is preparing to face both Kent State quarterbacks in Saturday’s game. Barrett hopes that preparation will be worthwhile, and that he will finally get a chance to play in front of 80,000-plus at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“I want to show how much I developed. Let them know that I’m still fighting, that I didn’t give up despite whatever happened. I just want to go out there and show them that I’m able to compete,” Barrett said. “Competing and flying around like my hair’s on fire, that’s a feeling I’ve been looking forward to.”