Matters get slightly complicated when trying to explain why Maryland's shooting star of a punter, Brooks Barnard, was able to play this season without having to sit out a year after transferring from Oklahoma. Even Coach Ron Vanderlinden was surprised.
Vanderlinden and his staff knew Barnard had the sort of ability that surfaced last week against Wake Forest. In his first full game since he was at Broadneck High School two years ago, Barnard averaged 40.7 yards on nine kicks. That included one that fluttered eight yards, but another that spiraled 62 yards and established momentum-turning field position in a game Maryland rallied to win, 17-14.
Maryland wanted Barnard, but only as a walk-on needing to establish touch and consistency before earning a scholarship. When Barnard chose Oklahoma, Vanderlinden and his staff were dismayed at not making their interest more obvious.
Barnard has deep local roots. He was named in honor of Baltimore Orioles icon Brooks Robinson. But he wanted an adventure for at least one year after high school, and studying meteorology in weather-erratic Oklahoma seemed exactly right. When he tried to walk on with the Sooners, he said, "They didn't give me the time of day."
He often kicked on Oklahoma's practice field with a couple of buddies who were on the team, but only after the Sooners had long left. So Barnard started the transfer process shortly after classes ended in the spring--and not having pursued Barnard very intently suddenly worked in Maryland's favor.
"We found out that because he never practiced with Oklahoma and we didn't recruit him, he would be eligible immediately." Vanderlinden said as the Terrapins (4-1) looked ahead to Saturday's home game against Clemson. "I hadn't realized that."
Recalling Maryland's initial dealing with Barnard, Vanderlinden said: "You have to be careful how you recruit walk-ons, or they count against you. We kind of assumed he'd come. . . . When Brooks's dad called and said he was not happy and would we be interested, I told him absolutely."
Barnard's thin leg hardly suggests the uncommon distance he generates. He was a place kicker early in high school. But when no one else was available to punt, he said, "I picked up a ball, kicked it and it actually spiraled most of the time."
A summer camp after his senior year at Broadneck was his only formal instruction before Maryland--and a bout with mononucleosis hampered his progress during the preseason. Also, Sean Starner, Maryland's only scholarship punter, had to kick himself out of the position before Barnard got his chance. That happened over a stretch of two games and a half-dozen poor punts. Barnard's first effort, a line drive against Georgia Tech that netted just 25 yards, hardly was encouraging.
But he won a punt-off with Starner before the Wake Forest game. His first effort went 37 yards; his second was that eight-yarder.
"That bad one really got me motivated," he said, "because I know I'm a good punter. I'd been very nervous. Look at the tapes and you see my feet constantly moving. But I wanted to show that eight-yarder was a fluke. From then on, it was great, so much fun."
Tamed by the Tigers
Clemson has overwhelmed Maryland lately, going 11-1-1 in their past 13 meetings. In the past six, all victories for the Tigers, the combined score has been 137-12.
"In years past, we weren't as tough-minded as we thought we were," said fifth-year senior defensive lineman Delbert Cowsette. "Plus, we didn't score much."