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To hell and back twice: The Taylor Barton Story
Picayunish violation shouldn’t be part of his legacy
By: Richard Linde, 15 April 2002

Evidently, the NCAA investigation targeting Coach Rick Neuheisel had its roots in the 1998 recruitment of Taylor Barton, Washington’s backup quarterback. His name bandied about in this latest media event, Barton’s play against UCLA last season was one of the most courageous performances  ever seen at quarterback for the Huskies. 

Barton should be cited for his gutsy play last season, not for the nitpicking, recruiting violation that is the touchtone for the current brouhaha. Unfortunately, however, he's been the subject of a number of news stories in the past, half of which he'd like to forget.

The Taylor Barton saga began during the recruiting season of 1998 when he was a high school student being recruited out of Beaverton, Oregon.

A reporter and photographer from the Portland Oregonian accompanied Barton  to Colorado on a recruiting trip, and included a photo of Barton, Rick Neuheisel and two Colorado assistant coaches in an article, both of which are rules violations.  According to Barton, the paper told him that the story would be published after signing day. Instead, it was published two weeks before. [Withers1].  

In January 1999, coincidentally at the time Neuheisel left Colorado, the NCAA focused on this article and warned Colorado of possible recruiting violations--a strange circumstance, indeed. There's got to be more to this story!

In July 2001, the NCAA notified the University of Colorado of its investigation involving recruiting practices. As a result, this past week, the NCAA announced it had uncovered 55 secondary rules violations at Colorado occurring under the coaching tenure of Rick Neuheisel, during a period that ran from 1996-1998.  

But there is more to the Taylor Barton story than just the Oregonian incident.

Neuheisel's replacement at Colorado, Coach Gary Barnett, hardly talked with Barton during the 1999 season. The loquacious Barton, who did most of his time communicating with the quarterback coach, played in two games and threw three passes. 

Unwittingly, the subject of another picayunish violation, Barton drew a one-game suspension at Colorado for calling recruits using a university-access credit card, hoping to keep them interested during the coaching search that occurred after Neuheisel left Colorado.

It was Barnett who wrote the letter to the NCAA that  protested what the punishment might be for Neuheisel's "quite" day violations at Washington. As a result of the violations, Washington sanctioned itself.

As part of the sanctions, Washington promised not to accept Colorado transfers who were enrolled at Colorado at the time Neuheisel resigned as head coach. After he accepted the Washington job in January 1999, Neuheisel talked on the phone with Barton and a couple of other players to wish them well and encourage them to stay at Colorado. Neuheisel was charged with tampering, since he hadn't obtained permission from Colorado authorities to talk to the players.

Barton was caught between a rock and a hard place.

At Colorado, some felt that Barton was the devil incarnate, that he symbolized Rick Neuheisel, that he was Neuheisel's boy.

Seeing the handwriting on the wall, Barton left Colorado and enrolled at the City College of San Francisco, where he played during the 2000 season as a non-scholarship player.

But he wanted to go to Washington, wanted to play for Rick Neuheisel. Both of them are quick studies, students of the game who have brilliant football minds. He wanted to continue to learn as much as he could from Coach Neuheisel. 

As far as Washington was concerned, the case was closed. To accept Barton, according to the NCAA, Washington would have to chose an alternate penalty. 

It was letter written by Barton to University President, Richard McCormick, that turned the tide. He made a compelling case, according to university officials. As a result, the Huskies agreed to give up two scholarships for his enrollment in 2001.

But bad press seems to follow Barton wherever he goes, his continuing saga never ending. 

There was the minor incident at Seattle Pacific University, just before the Holiday Bowl last season. Barton and two others were arrested outside a dormitory and charged with misdemeanor criminal trespass after police said they were uncooperative with campus security. 

Barton said the three were visiting two women at the school and left the dormitory 15 minutes after the curfew. A campus security officer was waiting below, he said, and asked to know whom the players were seeing. "I made some comments I probably shouldn't have, just speaking my mind, no cussing. We were walking away, and then the (Seattle) cop pulled up and we were handcuffed and taken away." [Withers3]. The charges were dismissed.

The latest peccadillo, the Oregonian incident, which heaps more negativity on the ongoing media saga, “The Taylor Barton Story”, can be blamed on—whom else—the media.

"It's about 50-50 now," Barton said in a recent quote appearing in an article written by Bud Withers of the Seattle Times. "Half the time when my name's in the paper, it's for something good, half the time for something bad.”

"I don't see that anybody's going to gain by looking into things. The past is the past."  

No, the past is not the past. Fans shouldn't forget Barton’s stellar performances against USC and UCLA last season.

During the USC game, the Huskies' fourth game of the season, Barton replaced the injured Cody Pickett and led the Huskies to a dramatic, come-from-behind win.


Photo of Taylor Barton, courtesy of dawgman.com
The next week, against UCLA, marked Barton’s first start as a Husky, this against a team that was ranked seventh in the nation and that had 23 seniors on its roster.

Without a running game to keep the Bruins at bay, Barton was a target from the get-go. At times, as if acting in a David Lynch fantasy episode, he was a rabbit chased by a pack of coyotes, running for negative yards on eleven rushes; at other times, he transmogrified into a punching bag, being hit over forty times and mauled from behind after throwing an interception.

Sitting near the 50-yard line, close to the field, I felt like I had a ringside seat at a boxing match, rooting for an overmatched underdog caught up in a pier six brawl. Late in the game, as Barton staggered about the field, I felt tears of sympathy well in my eyes. Born much earlier, Barton could have played for the unbeaten Gil Dobie, who played only the toughest, most self-sacrificing players. His play that day is symbolic of what it means to be a Husky.

Remarkably, the courageous Barton passed for 340 yards, going 23-44-1. It was a losing effort, however, suffered on a blistering hot day at Pasadena. Battered and bruised after the game and too woozy to talk to reporters, Barton was taken to the UCLA Medical Center for observation, and subsequently missed the next week of practice.

Quarterback Casey Paus, Washington’s redshirt freshman, won’t forget the past either. Thanks to Barton’s gutsy play against the Bruins, Paus was able to maintain his redshirt status.

The "Taylor Barton Story" isn't over. The final chapter, his senior year at the University of Washington, could turn his saga into a best-selling blockbuster, and it won't be "something bad." 

"This is like a storybook ending," Barton said while he was in Seattle on an official recruiting visit a couple of years ago. "I feel I've been to hell and back twice."

Since you don't get a third chance in hell, look for Barton to make the most of this upcoming season. This story isn't over; it's never ending. 

Taylor Barton is a Husky. We fans can all be proud of him.

Taylor Barton bio and itinerary:

  • 210, 6'2", Junior, Communications major, Beaverton, Oregon, born 10/03/1979. The son of former NFL quarterback Greg Barton, who was a member of the Detroit Lions in 1969 and also a starter in the Canadian and World Football League. 

  • 1997. Senior, Beaverton High. Threw 56 TD passes, including 24 in the playoffs.

  • 1998. Redshirted at Colorado under Rick Neuheisel. Five months later, in 1999, Barbara Hedges, athletic director at Washington made Neuheisel an offer he couldn't refuse and Neuheisel left Colorado for Washington.

  • 1999. At Colorado, Barton was demoted to fourth string under head coach, Gary Barnett. He played in two games, completing 3 passes. Transferred to CCSF.

  • 2000. City College of San Francisco. Superprep's top ranked Junior College player, 2000. Offensive MVP of the 2000 JC Grid-Wire National Championship game. Started six games for the Rams; completed 62.5% of his passes for 2059 yards and 24 touchdowns. Transferred to Washington, along with Kai Ellis.

  • 2001. Replaced Cody Pickett during the USC game last season. Starting quarterback for Washington against UCLA the following week. He played in five games, completing 51% of his passes for 647 yards (86-44-2).

 

References:

[Withers 1] Bud Withers, “Has UW made itself resistant to scandal?”, The Seattle Times, 13 April 2002.

[Withers 2] Bud Withers, "Family fighting QB's ban from UW." The Seattle Times, 24 March 2000.

[Withers3]. Bud Withers, "Barton back in Holiday plans," The Seattle Times, 20 December 2002.

[Withers4]. Bud Withers, "Former Colorado QB commits to Washington," The Seattle Times, 16 December 2000.

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