By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
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.
His status as a developmental player in MLS, which exempted him from a team's salary cap and senior roster, was going to expire. "So I was either going to go somewhere else and try to make a senior roster and start at a low salary, or go back to school," he said. "At that point, between the injuries and not playing, I wasn't the same player as before."
Barclay walked away from soccer. But under MLS's development plan, young players are provided tuition money to further their education during or after their careers. Barclay began commuting to Ohio State's nearby branch campus to earn credits toward enrolling at the main university.
One afternoon, Barclay went to lunch with Jim Schmidtke, the Columbus Crew's chaplain. Through Bible study, Barclay had become friends with Schmidtke, who knew Buckeyes football Coach Jim Tressel.
Schmidtke took Barclay to the Easy Living Deli, which was founded some 20 years ago by Vlade Janakievski, Ohio State's kicker from 1977 through 1980. The restaurant has two rooms: one filled with food (prepared by Janakievski and his family), the other with football (photos, plaques, banners, a goal-post pad autographed by players).
Knowing of Barclay's kicking power and amateur eligibility (an athlete is allowed to play a college sport other than the one for which he was a professional), Schmidtke introduced him to Janakievski.
"Maybe come by and eat, and we will kick some balls sometime," Janakievski told Barclay. A few weeks later, they found a vacant field with uprights. The old kicker held for the prospective kicker.
Soccer players are trained to strike the ball low and to improvise direction and pace when necessary. In football, besides adapting to the object's shape, the first priority for a place kicker is lifting the ball over raised arms on the line of scrimmage. So Barclay's initial test was sending the ball between the uprights from just seven yards away. He succeeded.
They then worked on distance and accuracy.
"I could tell right there and then," Janakievski said last week, "that he had the touch."
Said Barclay: "He was like: 'Man, you've got it. This is worth working on.' "
The next figure to enter Barclay's life was Dan Stultz, another former Buckeyes kicker who ran an electrical-supply business in Columbus. "I told Dan, 'We might have something here,' " Janakievski said. So once or twice a week for a few months, Stultz worked with Barclay on technique and repetition.
Despite impressing his tutors, Barclay didn't have game footage to share with the Buckeyes coaches, just the good word of Janakievski and Stultz. Upon their recommendation, Tressel offered him a tryout, and in spring 2007, Barclay walked on to the team.
But with Ryan Pretorius, a former South African rugby player with a booming leg, and NFL prospect Aaron Pettrey ahead of him on the depth chart, Barclay was not going to play anytime soon.An immediate impact
Barclay watched and learned, and after Pretorius's departure, he served as Pettrey's backup last year. In the ninth game, during a 45-0 rout of New Mexico State, Pettrey injured a knee ligament on kickoff coverage. Barclay was thrust into the starting role.
His first full game was in front of more than 110,000 spectators at Penn State; the combined attendance for the Mutiny's 14 home matches in Barclay's MLS rookie season was 146,734. He made a 37-yard field goal and three extra points in the 24-7 victory.
"He just knows how to kick a ball - he's been doing it his whole life," said holder Joe Bauserman, 26, who also played a different sport professionally (baseball) before going to Ohio State.
The following week, Barclay's 39-yarder in overtime against Iowa sent Ohio State to the Rose Bowl and made Barclay a statewide hero and YouTube sensation. Though the Buckeyes hadn't been to Pasadena in 13 years, Barclay knew the stadium well - as an MLS player against the Los Angeles Galaxy, a tenant until 2003. In the 26-17 victory over Oregon, Barclay converted three routine field goals.
This year, Barclay beat out freshman Drew Basil for primary field goal responsibilities. With greater range, Basil is called upon from 47 yards and beyond - he is 0 for 1 - and most kickoffs. One NFL scouting service lists Barclay as the 11th-best prospect among 64 candidates.
"His kicking style looks like he never played soccer," said graduate assistant Wes Satterfield, who oversees specialists - and is a year younger than Barclay. "He is more straight-on, which allows him to be more consistent."
Barclay's influence on the Buckeyes goes beyond clutch kicking. He has converted many teammates into soccer fans, and this past summer several joined him to watch U.S. World Cup matches. In his one season with San Jose, Barclay roomed with Donovan, the U.S. squad's career scoring leader.
McQuaide, the long snapper, "is a student of the game now," Barclay said, laughing. "After the U.S. games, I would get 20 text messages from the guys asking why we made this substitution or played in that formation. They were into it."
Because of the age gap, Barclay doesn't socialize often with teammates, though his boyish looks allow him to fit in easily. He is scheduled to graduate after this semester, then hopes to land a job in coaching, conditioning or marketing - in football or soccer.
Five years removed, does he still know how to handle a round ball?
"I would have to go slow and do it, but I think I could still hit a ball pretty well," he said. "I can still juggle and all the basic stuff. I don't think that will ever go away. Soccer is always going to be a part of me."