Barnard's punting leg took him from Broadneck to NFL, Europe and more

azielonka@baltsun.com

Before he became the best punter in University of Maryland history, and before he reached the National Football League and NFL Europe, Brooks Barnard made a 52-yard field goal for Broadneck High School.

Such a distance is not always reached by NFL kickers, so it’s much rarer to witness at a high school game. But that’s what you can expect when a natural athlete lines up as a placekicker.

“It was kind of a joke between my dad and I that I did not fully use my athletic ability probably to my potential by just kicking a football,” Barnard said. “There wasn’t a thing I couldn’t do, but somehow it just landed on kicking.”

On the famous strength of his leg, Barnard will be inducted into the Anne Arundel County Sports Hall of Fame on Wednesday.

Barnard was a year-round athlete, playing basketball and baseball for the Bruins, but caught the most eyes kicking and punting for the football team. During his senior season in the fall of 1997, he averaged 42.4 yards per punt, kicked 90 extra points and 18 field goals. Barnard was named first-team All-County thrice and All-State twice.

Jeff Herrick, Broadneck’s head coach from 1989 to 2010, recalls Barnard’s strong leg fondly, but also that he would practice constantly with his dad, a commercial airline pilot. Brooks “worked hard at his craft of kicking,” Herrick said.

Barnard, now a father to a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old, is grateful for his busy parents’ presence and guidance growing up.

“My family was always very supportive of me, and no matter what tribute or what words I could say, it wouldn’t even be fair to quantify how much they gave their time and effort to me,” Barnard said.

Attending Maryland was not always the plan for Barnard. He originally attended the University of Oklahoma because he wanted to major in meteorology — which wasn’t offered at Maryland — so he could become a television weatherman.

“It’s the perfect job. You can be wrong and you can still keep your job,” he jokes now.

Having lost some family members around his senior year at Broadneck, Barnard decided to take time for himself and this non-athletic dream of his. He didn’t play any sports at Oklahoma during the 1998-99 academic year.

“Out there it was kind of a mental break for me just to kind of take care of me and experience some things,” he said.

But he became friendly with some Sooners football players, and during the spring he was invited onto the field at open practice to kick the ball around again.

“When I knew I had the ability to do it there, you know, that’s a big-time program,” Barnard said. “I felt like I could do it everywhere else. That’s when I started exploring (other schools) and I had the itch to play sports again.”

Barnard ultimately didn’t stay at Oklahoma (sacrificing meteorology along the way) because he wanted to play for a program where his family could watch him. But the Sooners’ staff knew about Barnard from his time on their practice field, and a newly-hired, not-yet-legendary head coach named Bob Stoops tried to convince Barnard to join the team as a walk-on.

Looking back, Barnard finds it ironic that the day he was packing to leave for Oklahoma, Maryland’s offensive coordinator reached out to ask him to walk on as a punter.

“And then the day that I was leaving (Oklahoma a year later) for Maryland, Stoops was trying to tell me to stay,” Barnard said. “So it’s kind of funny how that played out.”

The Terrapins were lucky to have him, of course. Barnard set school records for career average (43.7 yards per punt), single-season average (44.7 yards) and single-game average (53.8, in a game against Temple) which still stand today. The publication College Football News named him a second-team All-American in 2001. He was named to the all-Atlantic Coast Conference team three times and was a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award, given to the nation’s top punter, twice.

After college Barnard caught on with the New England Patriots for a game in 2003—a busy game for him, in which he punted 10 times. In 2004, while under contract for the Chicago Bears, he was assigned to NFL Europe’s Rhein Fire, based in Germany. Spending a season there was “a heck of a learning experience,” Barnard said.

“It was almost like an Oklahoma moment for me, but you (also) have the language barrier, you’ve got a lot of barriers you’ve got to overcome there,” he said, adding there weren’t as many resources for staying in touch with family in the States back then.

He got some tryouts with teams in 2005, but his NFL career didn’t last much longer. Barnard chalks it up to bad timing, pointing out that there are only 32 punting jobs in the league. Around the same time, he met Kevin Plank, the founder of Under Armour, at a Maryland football game and kept up communication with him.

“He just told me one day, ‘You know, Brooksy, whenever you’re done (playing), I want to see if you have any interest in working at Under Armour,’” Barnard recalled. “It always stuck with me.”

Starting in 2006, Barnard worked in the company’s “team sports” division as well as distribution before eventually being promoted to director of global sports marketing for grassroots football. In this position, Barnard travels around the country spearheading marketing for Under Armour’s partnerships with 64 elite, sometimes nationally-ranked, high school football teams. He sees his job as both fun and a way of giving back to the game.

For all his professional experiences and travels in the U.S. and abroad, Barnard says what he misses most about playing football is much closer to home.

“It’s not putting a Patriots jersey or putting on a Maryland jersey,” he said. “Hell, I really had a lot of fun putting on that Broadneck jersey.”

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