Terps' big-foot punter savors moment in time

THE BALTIMORE SUN

COLLEGE PARK - Brooks Barnard walked across the Maryland campus last Monday and soaked up all the adulation from his many sudden admirers.

"Aren't you the punter," said one fellow student, slightly in awe? "Hey, boomer," said another passerby.

Barnard's backup punter, Vedad Siljkovic, even honored him with a drawing on the blackboard, depicting Barnard kicking the ball high across the field with some calculus formulas decorating the flight of the ball.

All kind of messages from family members and friends were left on Barnard's answering machine.

"The typical comment was, 'I heard the game. What happened?'" said Barnard, who kicked himself into Maryland football record books and Temple into submission at Byrd Stadium last Saturday night.

"The first couple of days ... were really strange," said Barnard, who is a redshirt sophomore. "A lot of people knew my face, for some strange reason. It's been neat. You're talking about a guy nobody knew that much about until Saturday night."

It was a night to remember for the 20-year-old, who crushed punts of 85 and 66 yards on the way to a single-game school record of six punts that averaged 53.8 yards during a 17-10 victory. Not bad for a walk-on punter who receives no scholarship money and no preferential treatment, except he is allowed to live in the football players' dorm - at his own expense.

"I live in a mixed world," said Barnard. "Since I have no training table, where I can eat with the other players, I have to get to the regular dining hall by 7 o'clock in the evening, and practice doesn't end until 6:45. It's a pretty quick run for me."

Interviews kept him late after Monday's practice. Result?

"I ate at McDonald's," he said. "It's no big deal. I wanted to play college football, and now I'm doing it. When the scholarship comes, it comes."

Barnard was promised a scholarship in the spring semester of 2000, and now the promise has been delayed to the spring semester of 2001.

"There is an 85-scholarship limit, and there just hasn't been an opening for me because of all the seniors still around," said Barnard. "I met with Coach [Ron] Vanderlinden, and he has promised me, for sure, I'll get the scholarship next semester.

"The greatest thing about Saturday was that I finally did in a game what I regularly do in practice," said the wiry, 6-foot-2, 183-pound player. "I always knew I could do it, but hardly anyone else did."

Also, by punting 51 and 52 yards in between the 66- and 85-yarders, Barnard felt he finally kicked some of the bad-luck demons out of his life.

"I've been down a lot of dead ends as far as my athletic career, personal life, and family things are concerned," he said. "Especially in 1998, when my aunt and grandfather died, I was in two car wrecks in my old 1991 white Jeep Cherokee, and Oklahoma told me they didn't need me even to try out when I enrolled there for the fall semester.

"My aunt [Pat Hoffman] was the heart and soul of our family. She made everybody laugh, and, suddenly, she had a stroke and died."

Just when it appeared Barnard would get the new lease on life he wanted as a walk-on punter at Maryland last season, he came down with mononucleosis and lost 25 pounds.

Barnard did fight back, though, to become Maryland's punter in last season's final seven games, and he showed flashes of excellence, recording a 42.1-yard average that was 34th nationally.

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