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Coach Barnett builds reputation across state as student of defensive game

There's a t-shirt John Barnett never wears.

He refuses to even put it on.

It commemorates the Thomson Bulldogs' 2002 State Championship season, capped off with a 42-27 victory over Thomas County Central in the Brickyard.

But it's that 27 points his defense allowed that sticks in the craw of the Bulldogs' Defensive Coordinator.

"We gave up 27 points in a state championship game; I still can't believe it," said Coach Barnett. "I've got a T-shirt from that game that I still won't wear till this day, because it's got the score of the game on it."

Coach Barnett has held the defensive coordinator job at THS on two different occasions, spanning nearly two and a half decades. His early years, fresh out of college, were spent as an assistant coach and later defensive coordinator at Wrens High School, which now is known as Jefferson County High School.

Along the way, he's picked up three state titles, and a reputation as one of the sharpest defensive minds in the state.

"Shoot, 'defense' is a powerful word," said Coach Barnett during a recent interview. "When you've been around defensive players as long as I have been, it definitely grows on you."

And it's those players that he credits with much of his success.

"I've been fortunate to have coached a lot of outstanding players here at Thomson High School," said Coach Barnett. "We've been blessed to have had some very good football teams over the years."

This year, he enters his 16th season as defensive coordinator under 75-year-old legendary Head Coach Luther Welsh.

The special bond between the two men go back to the days when Coach Welsh was hired to become the new head football coach by Bob Smith, who was serving as principal of the high school at the time.

"I've learned so much from Coach Welsh," admitted Coach Barnett. "He's taught me so much."

Take for example, the simple rule Coach Welsh shared with Coach Barnett during the championship run in 1984: "You don't outsmart people. You have to outwork them."

Had it not been for Coach Welsh, Coach Barnett may not be in the position he holds today and has in the two different stints that Coach Welsh has been at the school.

"He gave me an opportunity when I was just a young coach with not a lot of experience," said Coach Barnett, who describes himself as an "adequate coach." "He gave me an opportunity to prove myself. I was determined to do a good job, because he believed in me. He's been very good to me."

Coach Welsh thinks highly of his defensive coordinator.

"He had a little fire in him back in 1984, and he's still got that same kind of fire today," said Coach Welsh of Coach Barnett. "He's intelligent. He's got a great mind, and he's got a great memory. He has a lot of knowledge about the game. John is a hard worker. He's loyal and dedicated and loves to win - like all of us do."

Web posted on Thursday, August 30, 2007

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