OWASSO, Okla. — Marty Barnett recently made history when he was selected as the inaugural winner of the top high school strength coach of the year for Oklahoma.
It was an honor the Rejoice Christian coach humbled accepted last month at the National Convention in Nashville, Tennessee.
“That was pretty cool,” Barnett said. “I was just really blessed. We’ve got a really neat thing going.”
“He’s made a huge impact,” Marley said of Barnett, who also serves as an assistant coach on his football staff. “We talk about the process. He’s the process guy. His role as a strength coach, he takes that on very seriously and he understands it.”
Barnett’s award is another sign of his success at Rejoice. But, more importantly, the former high school football coach acknowledged the formal recognition and plaque were just another example of how a decision he made more than decade ago proved to be one of the best moves of his life.
Barnett is a native of La Crosse. He grew up in the Sunflower State and attained both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Kansas. His wife, April, was raised in nearby Otis.
Barnett went on to be a head football coach at Stockton and later at Pratt Skyline, which was part of the smallest 11-man classification in the state.
Even leading a pair of football program during the early-to-mid 2000s, Barnett’s heart was pulling him in a different direction.
“I enjoyed being a strength coach more than I did being a head coach,” Barnett said. “I enjoyed the process of getting the kids ready. That’s the reason I became a head football coach. It wasn’t because I wanted to be the guy. It was because I wanted to run the weight room.”
Barnett continued to feel the tug to working as a strength coach. In 2006, he took action.
“I’m mowing the football field like every small school coach in Kansas does and I’m just praying about it,” he said. “I knew my heart. That’s where my heart was.”
So, Barnett began to do some research and eventually accepted an unpaid internship at the University of South Florida in Miami. He, his wife and their then 6-month-old son, Isaac, packed up and made the trek to an unfamiliar area and a vastly different environment.
During that year, Barnett completed his internship and April got her foot in the door on a new career path as well, in the human resources and recruiting industry. It paid off. She currently works as a senior recruiter for the Williams Companies in Tulsa.
“She found her niche when I found mine,” Barnett smiled.
Following the completion of Barnett’s internship at USF, the couple decided to move to Oklahoma in 2007. They took another leap of faith.
“Neither of us had a job offer there,” said Barnett, whose only connection to family in Oklahoma was an older brother in Chandler. “We just knew we didn’t want to stay in Florida. We wanted to get closer to family.”
Marty found a job as a freshman football and basketball coach at Mustang High School. April continued her work in HR with INTEGRIS Health Care System.
In the summer of 2008, Marty had reached out to a connection from his college days at Kansas State University and found a way to sharpen his skills as a strength coach. This connection was working at the University of Tulsa at the time so Barnett drove back and forth that summer as free labor for Golden Hurricane athletics.
By that fall, the athletic department created a graduate assistant position for Barnett, which brought them to Tulsa. While working at TU, Barnett attended Victory Church. It was there, he struck up a friendship with another Victory attendee, Marley, who was then a coach at Victory Christian.
“Brent was needing a strength and conditioning guy at Victory,” Barnett said. “And, even though I was at TU at the time, I knew I wanted to work at the high school level again. I wanted to be able to have my cake and eat it too. I wanted to do what I love but I wanted to be home in time to tuck my kids in and see my wife.”
In 2009, Barnett went to work at Victory Christian. He stayed at the south Tulsa school until 2015 when Marley left to take over at as Rejoice’s head coach and athletic director. Even though Marley moved to Owasso, the new campus and facilities, which included a weight room, were a year away from being completed.
“The timing wasn’t right,” Barnett said. “They didn’t have a position for me, unless it was as assistant athletic director. And that’s not where I feel called to be.”
Instead, Barnett moved back to the Oklahoma City area, this time as a strength coach at Moore High School. He served in that capacity for a year before Marley reached out again in 2016.
While he and his family had been faced with tough decisions in the past, Barnett said the choice to move to Rejoice was a no-brainer.
“I loved the people and the vision,” he said. “Coach Marley has done an amazing job as an athletic director of setting the tone with the whole athletic department. I’ve been blessed that every coach has bought in and they see me as their head strength coach.”
Marley said the addition of Barnett has helped raise the level of athletics at Rejoice across the board.
“He knows what he needs and what we need as a school and what we need as a football program,” he said. “If our football program and athletic department was an automobile, he’d be the transmission. He definitely is the guy that makes it go on the inside.”
When Barnett reflects on his journey, he sees his path to Rejoice led by his faith.
“When you step out of the boat and step out in faith, hold on,” Barnett said. “We joke about it but God has been good. All along the way, he’s been there.
“I tell anybody that will listen, it took me 10 years but I’m in my dream job. Now I get what all that was about.”