A few months ago, during Florida State's spring camp, a reporter asked quarterback Jameis Winston just how good it felt to have four starters returning on the offensive line.
The reporter barely finished his question before Winston interjected. Yes, the Seminoles’ front five features four returning from last year’s line. But in Winston’s mind, there are five.
That includes senior center Austin Barron, a former standout at St. Thomas Aquinas High who will step in this season as the lone newcomer for a group charged with keeping FSU’s Heisman-winning quarterback clean.
“I feel like I’ve got five guys,” Winston said. “I’m familiar with Barron. Barron’s a great guy. I don't feel like I’m just having four back. I feel like I’m having five.”
Winston has a point. Barron, who is 6-foot-3, 296 pounds, has five career starts and plenty of experience as a reserve. So it’s not as if he’ll be wide-eyed when FSU opens its season against Oklahoma State later this month.
And, even better, Barron has played significant minutes with his fellow linemen. Barron, guards Tre’ Jackson and Josue Matias and right tackle Bobby Hart (Barron’s teammate in high school) are all members of FSU’s recruiting class of 2011.
That quartet famously came of age in FSU’s 2011 Champs Sports Bowl win over Notre Dame when, as true freshmen, they all started and held off the Fighting Irish’s pass rush long enough for the Seminoles to complete an 18-14 comeback victory.
“I’ve been with them for three years,” Barron said in March. “I’ve got great relationships with all of them. … They know I can do it.”
If he can, then the Seminoles are a good bet to meet their aspirations of having the country’s top offensive line.
A year ago, left tackle Cam Erving, center Bryan Stork, and Jackson, Matias and Hart paved the way for the most prolific offense in school history. The Seminoles in 2013 set an NCAA record for total points scored in a season and ranked among the nation’s best in passing, rushing and scoring offenses.
At the middle was Stork, a fifth-year senior who won the Rimington Trophy as college football’s best center.
Barron said he’s still learning from Stork’s example as he prepares to succeed him.
“He knew what was going to happen before it even happened,” Barron said. “He always got his hands on people. He was able to hold the point. What I mean by that is he would sit back even with his guards, and if anything, a twist or anything were to happen, he would just stop it as soon as it happened. And you know, that caused a lot of problems for the defense.
“I’m really trying to hold that point like Stork did last year.”
Even though Barron is by far FSU’s least experienced lineman, he has still earned the confidence of his teammates and coaches.
That comes from what he has shown when asked to step in — as he did when Stork missed last year’s Wake Forest game with a concussion — and also from the strides he has made in practice.
“Austin is a very intelligent guy,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “And, with playing experience, it makes me sleep a lot better that I know that.”