West Branch junior Jacob BarnhartBy Susan Harman
Your Prep Sports
WEST BRANCH – West Branch junior tackle Jacob Barnhart is an imposing presence. At 6-foot-5, 285 pounds he towers over other linemen who are themselves pretty large people.
He is a key reason the Bears have one of the most powerful rushing attacks in 1A football, as he and his colleagues on the line pave the way for all-state running back Luke Lenoch. But where Lenoch, a senior, is a known quantity having fully developed over four seasons, Barnhart is just learning his craft.
He doesn’t look it, but in a way he’s just a babe in the woods. His bear claws have barely scratched the surface of his potential.
“I don’t think he’s even close to where he could be,” West Branch coach Butch Pedersen said. “Regularly in ballgames you’ll see pancakes (blocks) by him, really massive holes blown up.
“What he needs now is to continue to work on his speed, his agility, and that mental edge to where he wants to go out and be a difference maker on the offensive line. He’s such a nice kid that sometimes he probably needs to check that at the door when the football game starts.”
Jacob Barnhart, Cole Tisinger, John Kral.
The thoughtful, soft-spoken Barnhart wasn’t interested in youth flag football as a youngster. He wasn’t really drawn to the game until later.
“As soon as I got the chance to go out and hit somebody I wanted to start playing,” Barnhart said. “When I was younger I was a big kid, and I thought I’d do all right at it. As I grew up I really liked the team aspect of it, coming together as a group and trying to get a win.”
After a season of frosh-soph football he started on the offensive line as a sophomore.
“As a sophomore we didn’t really want him to play both ways,” Pedersen said. “We wanted him to kind of develop his trade. This year we knew from the very beginning that he was somebody who was going to play on both sides of the ball.”
He was good enough as a sophomore offensive tackle to earn 1A second-team all-state honors, the only sophomore on the top two teams.
“He’s kind of grown into his body,” Bears offensive line coach Kyle Haganman said. “He’s a big kid, but as a freshman he didn’t know how to use his body as well as he should have. He’s grown physically as well as mentally and has come a long ways as far as understanding what his assignments are, the techniques involved and trusting his body and using his strength.”
He’s improved his strength and agility under the direction of team strength coach Phil Johnson. His coaches love his willingness to absorb the intricacies of offensive line play and his ability to take constructive criticism. And he’s never been a stranger to hard work, having helped with his father’s excavating business for some time.
Knowing he was going to be playing both ways, Barnhart was diligent in his off-season preparation in terms of conditioning, weight training and technique. He attended Iowa’s camps for offensive and defensive linemen, and he worked with former Bear Jack Rummells, who was an All-American offensive lineman at Northern Iowa.
“They really remind me a lot of each other,” Pedersen said. “They’re real similar in size. They’re both really quiet and they’re both real technique-oriented. Jack and Kyle remind me of (Iowa assistant) Reese Morgan: very mellow, very technique-oriented, very detail-oriented, but don’t show a lot of emotion. They are very analytical in their approach.”
Offensive line technique is more important than most laymen know.
“Yeah, I’m bigger than people but I’ve been blown up by little guys and put on my butt because I didn’t stay low enough or something,” Barnhart said. “It’s all about staying low and getting inside leverage.”
Nothing like a little embarrassment to serve as motivation.
Barnhart’s own view of his progress shows his analytical side.
“Just reading plays before it happens,” he said. “I’m a lot more relaxed this year. I’m not making stupid mistakes like I used to. It seems like the game goes slower. I have more time to think about what I’m doing and make the right decision and the right block. It’s a lot easier this year.”
“He’s growing into his role on the team, and hopefully he can continue to lead and have people look up to him,” Haganman said. “I know they do already, but the more vocal he can be the better.”