100% chance of perspiration

Football: Terps punter and aspiring weatherman Brooks Barnard has devoted himself to his position, and he's making other teams sweat because he consistently can pin them down near their own goal.

September 07, 2001|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Sure, Brooks Barnard would love to fulfill a dream by making big money as a punter in the NFL.

As an All-America candidate with the Maryland Terrapins, the junior from Broadneck High is off to a great start.

Not that Barnard feels he needs a future in football to be happy. As a kinesiology major, he would like to build a career path in sports medicine or physical education. He thinks further ahead about earning a master's in meteorology, and making a living on a different kind of stage.

"I want to be on TV talking about the weather," Barnard said. "You can be wrong, and you still keep your job. There's no pressure."

What a pressure-charged training ground he has chosen. Take last Saturday. With more than 44,000 Byrd Stadium spectators and a television audience viewing, all Barnard did was stage an amazing punting display that enabled the Terps to launch a new era with a huge victory.

While the Terps were trying to find their offense for three quarters before pulling away to a 23-7 victory over North Carolina, Barnard was sapping the hope of the Tar Heels with a right leg that resembled a cannon.

After badly botching his first punt, Barnard sent each of his next seven attempts more than 50 yards, pinning North Carolina inside its 20 six times - twice inside the 10. His net average was an astonishing 46.1 yards. The Terps' defense feasted on that field position advantage by stuffing North Carolina.

Terps coach Ralph Friedgen, who earned his first victory as a head coach with an assist from Barnard, said there was no letup in Barnard two days later in practice.

"It looked like the ball was coming out of a JUGS machine the way Brooks was kicking it [on Monday]. Fifty-five, 60 yards with 4.4 [seconds] hang time. He did it about 20 times in a row," Friedgen said.

"When I first got here, he was just a statistic to me. I didn't realize he wasn't on scholarship then. He's got a great leg. He takes punting very seriously."

Barnard, 6 feet 2, 182 pounds, is no flake. He is a huge World Wresting Federation fan who works with a purpose in the weight room, where he said he can bench-press 390 pounds. He is a good enough athlete to be a holder who is capable of running the option, should Maryland call for a fake kick. And he has immersed himself in the art of punting a football.

"He's got talent and a good football mind," Maryland special teams coach Ray Rychleski said. "He gets out of whack sometimes with his mechanics, and I'm a sounding board for him when things aren't going well. The real good ones correct themselves. That's where he is now."

Here's a scary thought. A year ago, Barnard finished fourth in the nation with a 44.7-yard average, and had not yet begun to master the finer points of his craft. Like directional kicking to help his coverage team contain a dangerous return man, or "pooching" shorter kicks out of bounds or close to the opponent's goal line, where a teammate could down the ball.

But after accepting a summer invitation to an exclusive camp run by Hall of Fame punter Ray Guy at Lehigh University, Barnard was a changed specialist.

"I worked with [Guy] on a one-on-one basis. I would have loved to challenge him," Barnard said.

"My job is like a puzzle. I put in my piece, the snapper puts in his, the protection and the coverage do their jobs. Last year, all of those balls [against North Carolina] would have gone out of the end zone for touchbacks. I wouldn't have given my coverage team a chance. I'm a lot more relaxed back there now."

Barnard was not always this passionate about punting beyond high school. After graduating from Broadneck in 1998 with all of the school records for punting and kicking, he enrolled at Oklahoma to pursue a degree in meteorology.

"I wanted to get away from sports, but that place lives on football. I stayed on the side and saw what the college football experience was all about," said Barnard, who decided to transfer closer to home after one semester. "I have no regrets. I matured as a person. Once I figured out I wanted to play football, I wanted to be where my family and friends could be part of what I wanted to do."

Barnard made the Terps' squad as a walk-on in 1999 and ranked 34th nationally by averaging 42.1 yards a punt. After his breakout season a year later, then-coach Ron Vanderlinden promised him a scholarship, which Friedgen quickly granted.

"If football doesn't work out, that's fine. I'll be a weatherman," he said. "If that doesn't work out, I'll be a gym teacher or do something else with kids. I'll be happy."

Next for Terps

Opponent: Eastern Michigan

Site: Byrd Stadium, College Park

When: Tomorrow, 6 p.m.

Radio: WBAL (1090 AM), WTEM (980 AM)

Line: Terps by 24

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