MORGANTOWN — WVU head coach Neal Brown said linebacker Jared Bartlett had an excellent summer and appeared to be taking the next steps to become the next great defender for the Mountaineers.
While he was showing great strides on the field, which he showcased last Saturday with a three-sack performance against Virginia Tech at Milan Puskar Stadium, Bartlett was using football as an outlet from personal tragedy.
On June 2 in an Atlanta suburb, Bartlett’s brother, Richard Bartlett III, 23, was killed in a hit-and-run accident while walking along a busy road.
According to the Johns Creek Police Department, “The victim (Bartlett) was following a girlfriend in a vehicle. She had a mattress strapped to the top of her car. From what we understand they may have stopped to secure it. She had pulled over to the right-hand side of the roadway. The victim had pulled into the left-hand turn lane right there at the boat entrance to the Chattahoochee River.”
He was then struck by another vehicle, which fled the scene.
“Once that happened … tragedy affects people differently,” Brown said. “Once that happened, he’s had a renewed focus and a seriousness about his preparation. I’m extremely pleased with him that it’s paid off.”
Bartlett, as difficult as the situation was, didn’t want it to have a negative impact on his life.
“It put a lot of things into perspective,” Bartlett said. “I didn’t want to take every day for granted. I just wanted to live up to his legacy and use everything he taught me while I was here.”
Bartlett’s mother, Tamara Tuitt-Bartlett, is a sheriff with the Gwinnett County Sherriff’s Office and witnessed the accident. Bartlett said he has always relied on his mother, and her stern attitude has helped him overcome many obstacles.
“I had an interesting childhood, you know, pretty strict,” Bartlett said with a laugh. “I give her all the credit, she’s a great mother.”
But, after dealing with everything that happened in his home state of Georgia, he had to come back to West Virginia for summer workouts. While away from family, he relied on his teammates, especially his linebacker brethren and several members of the defensive line.
“I take it day-by-day, getting closer with family members but also my teammates,” Bartlett said. “The linebacking corps, my position group, and I’m really close with a lot of the D-line … Jalen Thornton is my roommate from the D-Line.”
Although he’s far from home, Bartlett does have family just north of Morgantown this time of year. His half brother, Stephon Tuitt, is a nose tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the two share advice back and forth about football and about life.
With extra motivation, Bartlett had a strong fall camp as well, preparing for the bandit linebacker position, but the first two games of the season against Maryland and Long Island weren’t what he hoped with just two tackles.
It all came together against the Hokies, thanks to getting in the ear of his defensive coordinator and position coach Jordan Lesley.
“Jared has grown so much as a player over the last year,” Lesley said. “He came over to me on the sideline early in the second quarter and he says, ‘Coach, we’ve got a mismatch with these guys on the edge.’ So I trusted him out there.
“It’s pretty easy to see how guys will protect against us because of the interior, so when that happened, he took full advantage of it.”
Following his five-tackle, three-sack performance against VT, Bartlett was named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week. As his role continues to grow with the Mountaineers, he will continue to honor his brother’s legacy.
“I’ll remember his personality and how he approached things. He always looked at this in a positive light, and that’s useful, especially in the game of football. If you focus on the negative, it’s hard to improve.”