Wide receivers make a living using their hands. Jacksonville State wide receiver Josh Barge has made a name for himself using his heart.
“The thing that stands out to me and our whole staff is – just what a competitor he is,” said head coach Bill Clark. ” He is one of those guys that comes from a really good high school program. He was a guy making plays at the highest high school level.
It was Barge’s competitive nature that made his first season at Jacksonville State a difficult one to bare. He spent that year as a redshirt, able to practice everyday but unable to play.
“At first, it wasn’t something I wanted to do,” Barge said. “Now that I look back on it, it really helped me a lot.”
Barge came to JSU in 2012 still rehabbing a surgically repaired meniscus in his knee. He tore it on the first day of track practice his senior year at Carrollton High School in Carrolton, Ga. His competitive drive allowed him to push through that injury and still compete in the triple jump event.
“I jumped the whole season,” he said. “I went to state in jump. I came fifth in state.”
After the season, Barge opted for the surgery. It cemented his redshirt that fall. That redshirt gave him a chance to sit and learn behind former Gamecock receivers Alan Bonner, Kevyn Cooper and Trey Smith.
“When I came up here on my visit,” he said. “Alan Bonner, Trey Smith and Kevyn Cooper, they were my hosts. We bonded as soon as I got here.”
Bonner, Cooper and Smith have since moved on which left the Gamecocks looking for a new receiving core. Barge was one of the names called. He has played in every game for the Gamecocks and is the team leader in receptions with 26, yards with 407 and yards per game with 58.1. The only thing still eluding him is his first touchdown.
He almost had it in the Gamecocks’ game at Georgia State. Barge attempted a diving catch on a 40-yard pass to the end zone late in the second quarter. The ball bounced off his hands before they both hit the ground.
“He makes those plays and makes a lot of them in practice,” coach Clark said.
That next week against Murray State, Barge didn’t need acrobatics to catch the ball. With only seconds remaining before halftime, Barge caught a pass from Max Shortell. After making a defender miss, Barge was almost certainly going to score. He was stripped of the ball on the 2-yard line. The ball rolled out of the end zone and the Racers took possession on a touchback.
“I felt like it was my fault that we lost,” Barge said. “It was a lot of plays you can look back at but for me, that was my first time ever fumbling a ball since I put on pads. It was heartbreaking for me.”
His heart has overcome disappointments on the field before and if history holds true, it will do so again. With the injury to fellow receiver Markis Merrill, Barge’s first touchdown could come sooner rather than later.
“My coach tells me when the ball comes my way, I’ve got to make plays,” he said. “I’m confident enough in myself and I know Max (Shortell) is confident in me. I tell him this all the time. ‘If you need to make the throw, just put the throw out there to me and I’m going to make a play for you.'”