Redshirt sophomore linebacker Jared Bartlett is coming off the best performance of his WVU career. Bartlett tallied five tackles, a career-high three sacks and a forced fumble in the win over the Hokies. That showing earned him the title of Big 12 Conference Defensive Player of the Week and the Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week.
“He had a really good fall camp and just did not play well the first two games, for whatever reason. He just didn’t have a good feel. Then last week, Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s practices were really good,” head coach Neal Brown said. “You could see he was getting better. Did I think he was going to go out and have three sacks, five tackles and a forced fumble? Probably not. But I did feel like he was going to give us more.”
Saturday, Bartlett proved he found a way to turn his tragedy into triumph. On June 2, his older brother Richard Bartlett III was killed in a hit-and-run. He was 23.
“With my brother passing away, it kind of put a lot of things into perspective. Not taking every day for granted, just trying to do the best I can do,” Bartlett said. “Just trying to live up to his legacy, everything he taught me while he was here.”
Tragedy affects people differently. For Bartlett, it led to a renewed focus and a more serious approach to his preparation. He looked at the way his brother lived his life and applied it to his game.
“His personality, how he approached things — he always looked at things in a positive light,” Bartlett said. “That’s useful, especially in the game of football because when you just look at the negative things it is hard to improve.”
His new positive outlook took some time to develop, but with the help of family, friends and his teammates, especially the linebackers and defensive lineman, Bartlett found new motivation.
Last season, he was No. 2 on the team in sacks and No. 6 in tackles for loss.
“I’ve gotten a lot better at learning how to diagnose film. My body, of course, lifting with [strength] Coach Mike [Joseph],” Bartlett said of his improvements from 2020. “Being able to get more explosive, stronger and flexible. When I got here I couldn’t even touch my toes. Just working basic mobility.”
Defensive Coordinator Jordan Lesley said the biggest change he notices in players transitioning into their third year is they really start to notice things in-game situations, and that’s exactly what Bartlett did against Virginia Tech.
“Here’s an example — Jared comes to the sideline and said coach, this is the protections, they are giving chances off the edge,” Lesley said in an exclusive interview for the Neal Brown Show. “So, I really took the same philosophies, same game plan and transitioned it into leaving him on the edge because of what he noticed in-game and adjusted to in-game. When you see that in a player, that’s growth to the next level. So that’s probably the biggest thing — Jared understanding what his strengths are and what his skill set is and now he can maximize that.”
Bartlett trusted his instincts, his preparation and his relationship with his coaches and it paid off in the best way possible.
“Me and Coach Lesley have a pretty good relationship, so when I told him I had an advantage, he took a leap of faith and trusted me,” Bartlett said. “He is always been telling me about my speed and just being confident, turning the edge from the corner. Sometimes I try to do a little too much, but sticking to the basics is helping me grow and become a better edge rusher.”
When it comes to the game plan for the Heisman Trophy candidate Spencer Rattler this weekend, Bartlett is also trusting his skill set.
“Rattler is a great player so I am just going to continue doing things I do,” he said.