It wasn't the first time that Brett Barber had cast his eye on something totally different than he already knew and was comfortable with, but that didn't mean the change would be any easier.
Barber, a Springfield junior, had once been a promising hockey player who'd earned an all-star spot in the Eastern Junior Elite Prospects League before deciding to move on to soccer the night before tryouts in his freshman year. By the end of that year, he was a starter on defense for the Cougars' team.
Fast forward two years later, a friend on the football team casually asked him if he wanted to try to kick field goals, in large part because he knew that he had a powerful leg.
"The football team was still in the playoffs and using their field, so I started by kicking field goals over a field hockey net," Barber said. "I measured the distance for an extra point, and I just kicked hundreds of those before I started backing up. Two days after the football season ended, I went on the field with Brad Lord, a family friend, to kick."
Brad Lord, a former standout kicker for Springfield, had tons of experience and saw enormous potential in Brett. "Brett is a great listener. He wants to learn and puts the work in to get better," said Lord. When asked about Lord's assistance, Brett was quick to point out that "Brad is the perfect mentor because he not only understands kicking, but also the mental aspect to it."
Soon, both mentor and mentee started to see positive results of that effort. "My extra points were good, so I kept backing up more and more, and I eventually hit a 40-yarder. That's when we thought I might actually have a shot at this." said Barber.
"This," in question, meant possibly joining the football team as a kicker while still playing soccer. Barber hadn't broached the subject with the football coaches yet, but the more he thought about it, the more he knew he needed to focus on just football in order to have a successful start. But that premise was not an easy one to make.
"I was very nervous about the social aspect of it, especially since the majority of my friends were on the soccer team," Barber said. "At first, I really wanted to do both and then I was kind of worried about leaving the soccer team. But, I got a lot of support from both teams, and my friends on the soccer team said they'd come support me at the football games, which they did."
So with his friends' blessings, Barber set out to become a new weapon in Coach Chris Britton's arsenal... and bombed his first audition.
"For me, the initial jitters happened in preseason. We were doing 7v7 and some special teams, and I did not do well that day," Barber explained. "I thought too much about it and tried to kick too hard, but the coaches supported me so much, especially (wide receivers coach) Coach Mike Guille."
"I just remember that it drove me crazy the next day," Barber continued. "I was on the field for hours. I didn't like to miss."
A good kicker's value in high school football is almost immeasurable. Most can handle extra points with regularity, but a kicker who can stretch his range out becomes a wild card. Those who can also add a little bit of versatility to their game and be good at that are rare. Barber quickly fixed his kicking issues, and then emerged as a standout for Britton's team.
"It's one thing to kick around when you're just messing around and there's no pressure or anything," Britton said. "It took Brett a while to get the timing, and most kids that kick have done it throughout their life. We figured we'd throw him to the wolves, and he hit a 46-yarder in practice. We told him, 'you're a month into this. Wait until you actually learn,' and then we threw kickoffs at him. He did really well with that, and it's like a dream to have him do all of that. He's going to be a problem next year for other teams."
Barber connected on a half-dozen or so field goals this year, made three kicks in each overtime to help the team defeat their rival Ridley 17-16, and drilled a career-best 38-yarder against Harriton. "He knows he's got the leg to go even further, but he doesn't try to think too much about the distance. He just wants to do his job." Said Britton.
"I was nervous watching the kick go up, but it hit the upright and went in," Barber said. "You just have to treat everything like an extra point. For me, it's better if I don't know what the distance is, because it's more of a mental game. If I think about the distance and it's further than I'm used to, I'll try to kick it harder, and I'll miss."
Brett also realizes that his efforts are not made in isolation. "Hockey, soccer and football are team sports, and I had a lot of help in each. This past year, I had a great holder in Andrew Johnson, an awesome long snapper in Pat Clemens, a tremendous offensive line, and Coaches Britton and (special teams coach Phil) Plank helped me out so much." Perhaps just as much as Barber helped the team.
When asked, "What's next?" Brett just smiled and stated, "Work hard. Get better."
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