Derek Barnett the Volunteers' teen idol
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Derek Barnett is a teenager playing big-boy football.
"For a kid who is just 18, and a freshman in college, I know he's a lot further along than I was as a freshman," Iowa offensive tackle, consensus all-American and Outland Trophy winner Brandon Scherff said. "He's quick off the edge. He's a very powerful guy."
Tennessee's defensive end, who is expected to go head-to-head with Scherff in Friday's TaxSlayer Bowl, is mature beyond his years.
"We had two guys like that, Tony Moeaki and Bryan Bulaga, who came in as freshmen and really played well," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "You'd never know this guy is a first-year player. He looks like he's 23 out there."
Moeaki, a tight end, was a freshman in 2005. He was selected by Kansas City in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft and is now with Seattle. Bulaga, an offensive lineman, was a freshman in 2007. He was selected in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft by Green Bay and now starts for the Packers.
Barnett set Tennessee records for most tackles for a loss, 20.5, and sacks, 10, by a true freshman. The 6-foot-3, 267-pounder from Nashville, Tenn., was also a second-team all-Southeastern Conference pick.
Barnett and teammate Curt Maggitt, the Volunteers' starting strong-side linebacker, have had a sack competition all season. Maggitt had 11 sacks, to go with 14 tackles for loss.
"Derek is a unique person, a very mature person on and off the field," Maggitt said. "I've got a lot of respect for him. We do compete a lot."
Barnett and Maggitt do their damage on the corners, meaning Scherff and right offensive tackle Andrew Donnal will be responsible for keeping them off Iowa quarterbacks Jake Rudock and C.J. Beathard on Friday.
"The whole defense is quick, and they like to rush the edge," Scherff said. "They like to finish blocks and they like to do what we want to do, and that's being the most physical unit on the field."