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View from the 'ville
Thursday, December 16, 2010

By Al Myatt

Barbour getting his kicks with Pirates

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

East Carolina placekicker Mike Barbour will be looking across the field at his former program when the Pirates play Maryland at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC on Wednesday, Dec. 29, at 2:30 p.m.

"I kind of laughed to myself," Barbour said of his reaction when ECU's opponent for the Military Bowl was announced. "Everyone was saying we might play them. My reaction was, 'I seriously doubt it because they went 8-4.' I told them that I knew they would hate to go to the DC bowl. It turned out that they fell through the cracks and had to take it."

Barbour (pronounced Bar-BOOR) has stayed in touch with some of his old teammates at Maryland.

"I called my buddies over there, like the punter (Travis Baltz) and the snapper (Tim Downs) and we were just laughing about it because eight months ago when I was over there, we were laughing and saying, 'What if we ended up playing each other in a bowl game? That would be pretty funny.' It's kind of a funny situation.

" ... We're kind of excited to be able to see each other and hang out again. It's friendly between us."

Barbour saw very limited duty for the Terps last season. He got in on two Terps kickoffs last season in a 42-32 Maryland loss to Wake Forest in Winston-Salem but didn't put his foot into the ball either time.

"I don't even count it," Barbour said. "I didn't even kick the ball. I was more like a decoy out there in an onsides (kick situation). Yeah, I got in two plays."

Barbour is eligible for the Pirates this season because he was a non-recruited, non-scholarship athlete at Maryland who was granted a release from the Terps program.

Wake led Maryland 35-10 at the half but the Terps rallied and Barbour was called on for two second half kickoffs.

"There were two kickers," he said. "There was me and (Nick) Ferrara out there. The first one, there were two of us out there so they didn't know which one of us was going to kick it. He kicked it deep and I just ran down to cover it. The second time, I pretended like I was going to kick it. I ran by and then he kicked it. I was pretty much a decoy."

Barbour has been anything but a decoy since winning the placekicking job at ECU in preseason practice. He has made 14 of 16 field goals and 54 of 55 conversion kicks for a team high 96 points.

Mark Nelson was originally the special teams coach on Ruffin McNeill's first-year staff at ECU. McNeill promoted Clay McGuire to coordinate special teams after Nelson resigned following his improper involvement in summer workouts. Nelson assisted Barbour's transfer to ECU.

"Coach Nelson did a great job recruiting Mike to come here through the situation that he was in and we're real fortunate to have him," McGuire said this week. " ... We're real happy to have him here at ECU."

The kicking game was a key factor in ECU's 20-17 loss to Arkansas in the Liberty Bowl last season as the Pirates missed three tries from inside 40 yards during the last 1:03 of regulation play and overtime.

"I didn't watch it but I've heard all about it," Barbour said.

Former ECU kicker Ben Hartman struggled in the last game of his college career in Memphis although he had booted six game winners, including four that came on the last play of the game.

Barbour said the 23-degree wind chill at last year's Liberty Bowl was no doubt a factor that hindered the kicking game.

"It's definitely harder to kick in the cold," Barbour said. "Practices have been pretty cold. The balls freeze. They get a little flatter when the air's colder and it compresses a little bit. The balls just don't get that spring when they start to harden up. That's it. It just takes distance off the ball. I've been kicking it pretty accurately. It's just that my max range is about 45 yards instead of about 55."

Barbour is hoping the natural grass field at RFK isn't frozen which would make it hard for him to plant his left foot on his kicks.

ECU is 6-6 overall, a good season after 28 seniors and most of the coaching staff departed from a 9-5 team in 2009. Maryland has gone from 2-10 in 2009 to win six more games this season, the second best improvement in the football bowl subdivision behind Miami of Ohio.

"They've definitely done a full 360 and then some," Barbour said. "Last year, they were just like a lot of young guys. They lost 30-some seniors and it was like it was a whole new team. They didn't catch any breaks. They lost a bunch of close games. It's kind of nice to see they've turned around and been able to play somewhat up to their potential now."

Barbour was an all-state kicker in high school at St. Anthony's in Melville, NY. Barbour's personal trainer advised him that ECU was losing Hartman and punter Matt Dodge from the 2009 team. It looked like a situation where he could go in and compete for a job.

"I made friends here right away and fit in real well," Barbour said.

Ben Ryan went into preseason camp as ECU's placekicker but has settled into the punting and kickoff duties with the emergence of Barbour, a junior.

"Coming out of spring, if you had said that Ben would not have been the placekicker for us, I would have said, 'You're crazy,' " McGuire said. "He had a great spring but it just worked out where we were better off with him as a kickoff guy and punter."

Ryan is averaging 39.8 yards per punt.

One of the highlights for the Pirates in McNeill's first season at the helm was a 33-27 win over N.C. State in Greenville on Oct. 16. Barbour kicked a 31-yard field goal with 1:04 left in regulation to tie the score at 27. ECU had the ball first in overtime and drove to score on a 1-yard keeper by Dominique Davis. Barbour came on for the usually-automatic conversion kick and was wide right, his only missed PAT of the season.

"That was just a pretty terrible hit by me," Barbour said. "I just got real lazy about it and didn't think much of it."

The Wolfpack was in position to win with a touchdown and an extra point but an interception by ECU freshman safety Damon Magazu at the goal line got Barbour off the hook.

"I didn't even know what to think," Barbour said. "I just thanked (Magazu) about a thousand times after that. It was one of those moments where your teammates have your back. That's what being a teammate is about."

Barbour kicked his longest field goal of the season, a 52-yarder, in a 54-42 win at UAB on Nov. 11. The win made the Pirates bowl eligible. He also kicked a 41 yarder against the Blazers to complete a series in which backup quarterback Brad Wornick had to come in for Davis.

"When I was called out for the 52-yarder, I was kind of relieved I could finally get a legitimate long attempt," Barbour said. "I was just focused on trying to treat it like every other kick but it was something I personally needed to get and for the team I needed to get."

McNeill said Barbour's range is calculated in pregame warm-ups based on his performance with factors such as wind.

"We know what yard line we have to be at to be in Barbour's range," McNeill said.

Will Smith is ECU's long snapper and backup punter Trent Tignor is the holder.

"We've been pretty solid," Barbour said.

McNeill's family approach at ECU is different from the atmosphere at Maryland, according to the kicker who has been in both programs.

"I would say politely that (Ralph) Friedgen (Maryland coach) treats it more like a business than anything," Barbour said. "Ruff treats it more like family. Every time we have a meeting or a practice, about five times a day, the whole team breaks down on three and we say, 'Family.' "

Barbour isn't projecting himself into any game-deciding situations against his former teammates, although that potential is there given his role for the Pirates. He said he won't be thinking about doing anything other than doing what he does as ECU's placekicker.

"I don't feel like I have to prepare myself for something like that," Barbour said. "Every kick is the same for me. I'm just going to go out there and finish out strong. That's all there is to it."

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12/16/2010 03:32 AM


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