Ever since the Trojan standout strolled on the scene as a freshman, Carrollton has been Barge's house.
"From the day he stepped in this gym as a ninth-grader, he's never looked uncomfortable playing. He never felt like he was out of place and never looked like he was out of place," Criswell said. "A lot of times you get guys that come in when they're young or their first experience of varsity action — even juniors and seniors — you can tell it takes them a few games or maybe even more than that before they get comfortable playing ... but Josh just looked so comfortable out there as a freshman."
And the senior sensation closed out his prep career in typical Josh Barge style this past season — bringing a swagger to the court night in and night out en route to a fourth consecutive Region 6-AAA title and a second straight trip to the Class AAA state quarterfinals.
Barge, the 2011-12 Times-Georgian Most Valuable Player, averaged 24.8 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.8 steals per contest while shooting 56 percent from the field.
Because while Barge always brought the swagger during his four years as a Trojan, he also delivered the dagger — never being scared to take the big shot or want the ball in his hands at crucial moments of the game.
“I mean, for some reason, I don’t feel any pressure when the game’s on the line. For me, being a captain, I feel like if the game is going to be lost, I’d rather me lose it than somebody else lose it. That’s the same mentality that my dad had. It kind of carried through to me," Barge said.
"Ever since I was a freshman, I’ve been wanting to take the last shot. I haven’t been scared. Sometimes it worked out — I know I hit a couple of game-winning shots — and sometimes it doesn’t. But that’s the way the ball falls."
And while all four years were special to Barge — who went 95-19 as a Trojan — he said this past season will go down as one he'll hold close to his heart playing alongside a group of seniors that had tremendous chemistry on and off the court, finishing the year 26-4.
“We all just put in our minds that we’re going to have a great team. Unfortunately, we had to play Columbia in the elite eight, but besides that, we were all happy with how the season ended,” Barge said.
“You know, it was just great leadership out of everybody. If somebody was out here not doing the right thing at practice, one of us seniors would get on to them. It’s going to be hard now not playing with the same people that you grew up with. Luckily, me and [Telvin Brown] are going to the same college and I’ll get to play football with him. But it was just a great experience being able to play with all of them.
Barge, a first-team all-state selection by both the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association, signed a scholarship to play football at Jacksonville State, where he also intends to play basketball.
Barge isn't sure if he'll be a multi-sport athlete throughout his college career, but he is looking forward to the challenge.
“You know, if I do then I do. But the way I’m looking at it, I’ll probably play both my first two years and then whichever one I like the most, I’ll probably stay with that one. But if I like both of them, I might just play both of them,” Barge said. “It feels great that I’ve got two opportunities that can get me somewhere. But the one thing I’m looking forward to is education. Get my degree. So if sports don’t work out, I’ll have something else to do.”
Barge plans on majoring in Education and said he would like to come back to Carrollton and be an elementary teacher.
“I talked to [Carrollton City Schools Superintendent] Dr. [Kent] Edwards and he told me if I wanted to be a teacher here at Carrollton, it’d be easier to get an elementary job than a high school job because what schools are looking for nowadays is more men to be teaching at the elementary level,” Barge said.
Teaching should come as second nature to Barge. After all, he's been schooling folks on the court for years.
Barge said it's been tough coming to grips with the realization that his Trojan days are over, but he notes it's been a fun ride the entire way.
“I didn’t know I was going to be an all-state player. I knew I had the potential. You know, coach Criswell helped me. He put the work in to help me get to where I needed to be. I just want to give all the thanks to him and my teammates. Without them, none of this would have been possible. It’s not a one-man team, so I just give all the credit to coach Criswell and my teammates,” Barge said.
Criswell, too, is now adjusting to change — life without Barge — who has been a mainstay for the Trojan coach the past four years.
"There's something about having that constant figure in there that breeds winning. Josh has been that guy for us the last four years. He's just been a tremendous player since he was a freshman," Criswell said. "He's been a joy to coach for four years. You know, he's a great kid. I'm excited about him going to school and watching him play. You never know, the basketball situation may work out for him. If it does, we'll be there to support him and if it doesn't, then I'm going to go watch him play football."
And as Barge moves on to the next stage of his life, he said it will be a little surreal putting on a jersey that isn't Black and Gold.
“I mean, it still hasn’t hit me yet. I know it will when I graduate, just knowing I can’t put on another Carrollton jersey. You know, I’ve done put one on for four years. To put another one on, it won’t be the same. But I cherished every moment that I had in a Carrollton jersey. So it hasn’t hit me yet. But when it does, I know I’ll feel it,” Barge said.