It began as a "cool idea" three years ago in the backyard of a friend's house in tiny Shelby, Ohio, after Devin Barclay found in a closet an old football that needed to be pumped up.
The Annapolis native, now 26, who played soccer at McDonogh before moving on to Major League Soccer in 2001, had never kicked a football before that night.
On New Year's Day, he will be kicking for Ohio State before 90,000-plus fans in Pasadena, Calif., and millions watching on television, as the Buckeyes take on Oregon in the 96th Rose Bowl.
"The first kick was a low line drive," Barclay said of his backyard experiment, "so I knew I just had to get lower on the ball. The next one ... it took off."
Barclay, who spent the last two years of a five-year MLS career with the Columbus Crew, says his Ohio State journey has been anything but conventional. After his soccer career ended in 2005, he eventually decided to enroll at Ohio State and made the team as a walk-on in 2007. Staying with it while pursuing a degree in sport and leisure studies, he finally got the chance to play in a game when starter Aaron Pettrey sustained a knee injury in a win over New Mexico State on Oct. 31.
Barclay notched his first career field goal in that game, went to Penn State the next weekend and nailed a 37-yard field goal to break a first-half tie, and then made a game-winning 39-yard field goal in a 27-24 victory over Iowa that clinched the Rose Bowl berth. In four games, he's 4-for-7 on field-goal tries and has made all 12 extra-point attempts.
"I could always smack the ball pretty hard in soccer, so I always wondered if I could kick field goals," Barclay said. "It's been a wild, crazy ride for the most part - surreal because of the path I took. But it wasn't something that just happened overnight. ... It was one small step at a time, and it kept getting closer and closer to happening."
Barclay's first step shortly after his original backyard tries came when he visited a downtown deli in Columbus owned by former Ohio State kicking great Vlade Janakievski. Barclay introduced himself and shared his kicking aspirations, and Janakievski invited him to kick at the campus facility soon after.
"As soon as I saw him kick the ball, I could see he had the touch," said Janakievski, a 1980 graduate who was inducted into the Ohio State Varsity Hall of Fame in 2004. "He hit the ball well. He knows where to place the ball, where to kick it and he has a nice follow-through. You can't really teach that; you just need to have the touch to be able to do it."
Barclay's father, David, noticed his son's athletic abilities at a young age. While Devin was still in grade school, the two would go outside before school started and kick the soccer ball. It wasn't uncommon to see the elder Barclay chasing the ball down the street.
"I would roll the ball to him, and he would just nail it. And I'd tell my wife, under my breath when he wasn't listening: 'That's an incredible foot,' " David Barclay said.
Aside from Devin's natural ability, David Barclay saw another valuable asset his son had at an early age.
"What his real gift is, is that once he puts his mind to something, he just goes completely into it and doesn't stop until he has achieved what he wants to achieve," he said.
While playing soccer at a professional level has helped him prepare for the demands of kicking for a college national power, Devin Barclay says there are major differences between the pressures that come with the two sports.
In soccer, he usually played for all 90 minutes, so a bad first half could be made up for in the second half. As a kicker, he spends the majority of the game on the sideline trying to stay hydrated and loose. When it's his time, he has to be ready.
In overtime against Iowa, with his parents among the 100,000 fans in the stands, Barclay was just that - ready.
"You come alive in situations like that. You're kind of nervous about being put in a situation like that, but then again, that's what sports are all about," Barclay said. "You just have to forget about everything else that is going on around you and concentrate on all the things you work on every day."
Barclay, who said he swung too hard on an earlier miss in the game, told himself over and over to just hit it nice and easy.
As soon as he hit it, he knew it was good, and then off he went, running around the field in celebration with teammates eventually catching up. Nothing, he said, in all his years playing soccer has compared.
"It was a blur," he said. "The only thing I remember was watching the ball go off my foot, seeing it going down the middle and not even watching it the rest of the way because I knew I was good distance-wise. It was unbelievable."
Temple (9-3) vs. UCLA (6-6), 4:30 p.m., ESPN
Champs Sports Bowl
Miami (9-3) vs. Wisconsin (9-3), 8 p.m., ESPN
Alumni Report Each week, The Baltimore Sun catches up with a former area high school sports figure. To suggest former athletes or coaches to be considered for Alumni Report, please e-mail email@example.com.