STILLWATER — Calvin Barnett pulled of a Signing Day shocker in 2010, switching from his longtime commitment to Oklahoma State and instead signing with Arkansas.
As politicians like to say, he flip-flopped.
Two years later, he flip-flopped again — back to the Cowboys.
Following a stint at Navarro Junior College after he did not qualify academically at Arkansas, Barnett signed with OSU in December and is expected to have an immediate impact as a newcomer at defensive tackle.
Because of OSU's policy that does not allow first-year players to speak with the media, Barnett cannot yet explain his feelings and thought process during a wild recruiting process two years ago. But all indications are OSU is really where he wanted to be all along.
“I think deep down inside, he wanted to be at Oklahoma State the whole time,” said Nick Bobeck, Barnett's coach at Navarro. “I think he would agree and tell you that himself.”
Added OSU coach Mike Gundy: “I felt like that, ultimately, he wanted to come to school here. Circumstances happened within the last two or three days (before) Signing Day. Sometimes, young men get led in the wrong direction, based on things that are told to them.”
Once Barnett got to Navarro, though, none of that mattered. He needed to get his academics straightened out so he could transfer to a Division I school.
So Barnett followed the plan created by the Navarro advisers and graduated in three semesters, in time to enroll at OSU in January and join the Cowboys for spring football.
“It's not that Calvin couldn't handle the academic load,” Bobeck said. “It's just maybe he was a little immature in high school, maybe he had some studying issues or some bad habits as far as the classroom goes and such.
“He got himself in a little bit of a hole, and that's why he was in junior college in the first place. But to his credit, he really pulled through and paid attention to what we wanted him to do and did an unbelievable job.”
And while at Navarro, Barnett was a 300-pound force on the interior of the defensive line. When Navarro won the NJCAA national title in 2010, Bobeck called Barnett the difference-maker because of his athleticism and explosiveness for his size.
That all carried over during spring football at OSU, where Barnett quickly ascended to the top of the depth chart. Unlike many junior college transfers, who spend most of their first season adjusting to the physical and mental changes of Division I football, Barnett arrived in Stillwater in shape and with an ability to quickly learn the Cowboys' defensive scheme.
“One area that we're really pleased with him on is he plays more like a veteran player,” Gundy said. “We've always had some issues with guys that are two-year transfers coming in, whether they are 1, in good enough shape, 2, understand the speed of the game and 3, just mentally tough enough to compete.
“He's further along than just about any two-year player that we've brought into our program.”
Barnett has held down his spot as a projected starter throughout fall camp, meaning expectations are high for the guy who ultimately flipped — and flopped — back to OSU.
“He's got a little bit of tenacity about him,” defensive end Cooper Bassett said. “He's a nasty guy on the defensive line, and you combine that with his explosion and his size, I think he's got a good chance to be a big player this year.”
CALVIN BARNETT'S CAMPAIGN SLOGAN
“Right Place, Right Time”
After a Signing Day switcheroo and a two-year junior college stint, Calvin Barnett is finally where he wanted to be all along — in Stillwater. And the 300-pound defensive tackle is expected to be an immediate force for the Cowboys.
CALVIN BARNETT'S ENDORSEMENTS
* OSU coach Mike Gundy: “When he gets out there in an 11-on-11 setting, sometimes he may not be lined up exactly where he's supposed to, but when the ball is snapped, he goes. He attacks and he gets up the field and he plays hard and he tries to get the guy with the ball. That's kind of the key. That has given me an indication that he's got a chance to be a good player at this level.”
* OSU defensive coordinator Bill Young: “Coming into the spring, he really caught on to our defense faster than we anticipated him being able to. Most of the time, a junior college guy, they get in there and it takes them three or four games into the season to really find their niche…but boy he has just jumped right in there and done a great job.”
* Former Navarro coach Nick Bobeck: “He's a very powerful kid. He's got a great lower half. He's a guy that can really get off the ball, he's got a lot of snap to him, can recreate the line of scrimmage from the inside. It's difficult to do that with a kid that's 300 pounds, but he's athletic enough to do that. He can recreate the pocket and create some pressure in the middle.”
* OSU defensive end Cooper Bassett: “He's 300 pounds, but he carries it so well. He's got a good, football-playing, strong physique. And he's just got such a good burst and explosion off the ball.”