For Ohio State kicker Devin Barclay, a whole new ballgame
Friday, October 8, 2010; 11:59 PM
IN COLUMBUS, OHIO The second calling in Devin Barclay's athletic career, as the near-perfect place kicker for the second-ranked college football team in the country, came in 2006 when a chaplain introduced him to a delicatessen owner at a strip mall one mile west of Ohio Stadium.
Barclay was 22, his life in soccer stalled by injuries and unmet expectations. Consumed by the sport since his childhood in Annapolis, he had come from the golden generation that turned out future U.S. World Cup performers Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Oguchi Onyewu. But after representing his country at the junior levels and ricocheting around MLS for five seasons - including a stint with D.C. United - he had come to terms with his plight.
The Columbus Crew had been the last - and longest - of his four stops. He felt at home here and owned a condominium in the restored Brewery District along the Scioto River.
"When I signed with MLS, I didn't think I would ever go to college," Barclay said last week. "But once soccer ended, it started to make sense."
He never intended to play football for Ohio State;he just wanted to earn a degree after skipping college to sign withMLS. His sturdy right leg, though, remained athletically valuable.
Encouraged by his Bible-study leader and mentored by two former Buckeyes - one who now makes irresistible sandwiches, the other who runs an electrical-supply business - Barclay transitioned from kicking soccer balls to footballs. He has climbed to the top of the depth chart, and as a 27-year-old senior is among the nation's most productive place kickers, successful on 10 of 11 field goals and all 27 extra-point attempts.
"A lot of guys [on the team] respect what he did in soccer and respect that he had the confidence in himself to say, 'I did that for a while, it's not going where I want it to go, I am going to try something different,' " Buckeyes long snapper Jake McQuaide said. "It takes a lot of courage to walk away from your dream."
The beneficiary of Ohio State's potent offense this season, Barclay tied the 60-year-old program record with 10 extra points against Eastern Michigan on Sept. 25 and equaled the mark for field goals in a game with five against Miami (Fla.) on Sept. 11. Among the nine division I-A kickers averaging two made field goals per game, Barclay has the highest accuracy percentage.
"A lot has happened in 10 years," the former soccer forward said. Among the changes: He has added 40 pounds and replaced the dreadlocks he sported with D.C. United in 2003 with short hair. "I don't really have many regrets because it has brought me to where I am now in some weird, cosmic way."
New ball, new path
Barclay's path to football and a degree in sport and leisure studies was hardly ordinary. After choosing soccer over lacrosse, Barclay played for elite youth clubs in Bethesda and Baltimore and spent two years at McDonogh High School in Owings Mills, Md., before being home-schooled because of attention-deficit disorder.
Soccer was his escape. Experience with the U.S. youth squads caught the attention of MLS, and the league signed Barclay to its development program, which encourages top young talent to turn professional before completing, or even entering, college. The Tampa Bay Mutiny selected him in the second round of the 2001 draft, and he contributed a noteworthy three goals and two assists in 23 appearances (12 starts).
His career then melted away. The Mutiny folded after his first year, initiating moves to San Jose, Washington and Columbus. In 19 matches over four seasons, he was barely noticed. Several shoulder and foot injuries didn't help.