Eighth grade is when Calvin Barnett began to develop into a legitimate defensive tackle.
He had grown to 6-foot-2, the same height he is today. And he started football season at 230 pounds.
By the end of the season, he was 280 pounds.
“I just got wide,” Barnett said. “And then I got wider and wider in high school. I never got taller. I just got bigger and bigger.”
Today, Barnett is a powerful, athletic and disruptive force in the middle of the Oklahoma State defense — the kind of impact defensive tackle commonly found in the SEC and that the Cowboys haven't had in a decade. He's the reigning Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year, a preseason all-conference selection and a realistic candidate to take home league's Defensive Player of the Year award in 2013.
But first, Barnett needed to go through a bit of a physical transformation.
Barnett admits now he was lackadaisical and cocky in high school after earning starting jobs on the offensive and defensive lines as a freshman.
He used asthma as a (fake) excuse to not run hard or participate in certain exercises during practice. He ate out every day of his senior year, with Chinese, buckets of fried chicken and Taco Bell becoming favorite food options.
Barnett could still move well on his feet, making him a sought-after recruit. But when he signed his letter of intent to play at Arkansas in 2010, he weighed 335 pounds. And he started to hear the rumblings that he could be an impact player only “if he got in shape.”
Academics are what kept Barnett from making it to Fayetteville. Before heading to Navarro Junior College in Texas, though, Barnett wanted to drop weight.
For 2 1/2 weeks, all he ate was a 1,200-calorie power bar three times per day. He also made a daily habit of playing basketball and working out.
By the time he arrived at Navarro, he was down to 300 pounds.
By the time his freshman season ended, he weighed 290.
By the middle of his sophomore year, he weighed 270.
His feet even shrunk, going from a size 18 to a size 15 or 16.
“I just lost weight, in general,” Barnett said. “I'd come home and my mom would just try to feed me. She was like, ‘You're not eating.' I'm like, ‘I'm fine.' It's just what I wanted to do … I wanted to tone my body up.”
So Barnett was already in good physical shape when he arrived at OSU last winter. Rob Glass' strength and conditioning program, naturally, made him even stronger and better conditioned. He played in the 292-295-pound range as a junior.
But what most allowed Barnett to immediately ascend up OSU's depth chart last spring and become an important contributor for the Cowboys' defense, coach Mike Gundy said, was intelligence.
“Sometimes guys we get are not focused mentally and it takes them a while to get adjusted to our system,” Gundy said. “Calvin was farther ahead in that area.”
Barnett finished 2012 with 30 tackles (8.5 for loss), one sack, four quarterback hurries and one pass breakup. Expectations are even higher this season, with Barnett at the center of the Cowboys' revamped defense.
He began camp at 299 pounds, but insists the additional pounds are muscle. And he'll keep working to build himself into a stronger defensive tackle — the type that would thrive in the SEC or in any conference in college football.
“I still don't think I look as good as I should,” Barnett said. “I will one day.”